Tag Archives: parenting

Emotional hostage

There are those times when, as a father and as a man, you need to grit your teeth and do the right thing. I was faced with that decision tonight. So I gritted my teeth, picked up my bag, and told my wife that I couldn’t handle my son’s cries, and I was going to take a walk. She smiled, gave me a kiss, and told me to have fun.

So here I am now, huddled in the Barnes and Noble down the street, hiding from my son’s current meltdown.

Perhaps, this is not one of my finest moments.

You see, my son has taken me emotionally hostage. It all started a week or two ago during our morning commute. While driving my wife to work, I heard a sound that freezes any parent’s blood. I heard my son choking. Loud gagging sounds struck me from behind like a club to the back of the head. I panicked. “What is he choking on?!” I asked my wife. She glanced to the side out of the corner of her eye.

“He’s just choking himself for attention. It’s no big deal.”

“What?!”

Sure enough, ever since then, whenever he wants attention, my son stuffs his hand into his mouth and starts gagging. Over the course of the last year, I’ve learned to filter out most of his sounds. I learned to ignore most non-essential crying (to save my sanity) within the first six months. I especially learned to tune out whining — that high-pitched, carefully rehearsed screech when I won’t let him climb into the toilet. I was Tough Dad, impervious to his attempts to break me. My wife, still full of that crazy hormone cocktail that makes mothers fall in love with their babies on first sight, suggested that we give in just a little, just to make him happy. I didn’t. I stood strong.

But my son knows that despite my Tough Dad exterior, I love him fiercely. He knows I would fight rabid dogs hand-to-paw for him. I would kill hordes of Nazis to save him. And so, he knew that the only way to get my attention is to make himself sound like he’s in danger, to activate my father instincts.

Thus, the choking.

My wife, on the other hand, now mostly pregnancy/labor hormone free, knows the game. Raising four siblings from infancy does that, I guess. She assures me there is nothing wrong. He simply has found my weakpoint and now he is exploiting it. Hard.

And so here I am, tonight, hiding. We had put him to bed and despite being tired, he didn’t want to sleep. So the minute we close the door, the gagging sounds begin, drowning out the sound of my breaking heart.

My wife shakes her head when she sees me start to bend. “He is in no danger,” she tells me again. “It is all just an act.”

Then the crying shifts. It’s not the usual whining, I’m-tired crying, or the very forced, carefully calculated fake-crying. It is howling, a primal scream that he only makes when he’s hurt. My blood pressure is spiking. My wife is nonplussed, playing Disgea on her Nintendo DS with headphones over her ears.

I am in agony. The timer goes off. My wife goes in to check on our son. The crying immediately stops when she walks in. But after singing a lullaby and walking out, the choking and screaming starts all over again.

“He’s not –?”

“He is not in any pain or any danger. I checked. No fever, no illness. He’s faking everything,” my wife reports.

I am sitting on the couch, alternating between covering my ears and putting my head between my knees. My son continues to scream his I’m-hurt-please-cry. My stomach is in knots.

You spend your entire life after your child is born looking for those signs of humanity. Not just life — the crying and pooping that indicates he’s still alive. You start looking for those markers that say “I am human!” The first time your child laughs or genuinely smiles is magical. When your child experiences his first thunderstorm and he clings to you, your heart melts. And when you first betray your child during his vaccinations and he stares at you, begging for an answer as to why you let these shots happen, it demolishes you.

But deception — it is amazing how quickly a child exhibits deception. And, when your child first hides something from you (say, a piece of paper he wants to eat) because he knows he is not supposed to have it, it deeply disturbs you. For what could possibly be more human than trying to deceive another human being?

His cries are reaching a fever pitch, something almost alien. It is not real, and yet it sounds real and it most definitely feels real. His level of acting is devastating. My son, who can barely put together sounds to make rudimentary words already knows how to lie to his father. As I try to block the horrible sounds out, I remember The Vaccination Incident. We are even, I think through gritted teeth. I don’t feel bad about that anymore.

“I can’t take this,” I say. My wife laughs, my dear wife, my Tough Mom of a wife. “I’m going for a walk,” I inform her.

She gives me a kiss goodbye. “Have fun,” she says as I walk out the door, my tail tucked between my legs, my Tough Dad costume torn to shreds on my son’s bedroom floor.

3 Comments

Filed under life stories, parenting

A (humorous) meditation on death, loss, and fatherhood at two in the morning

It sounded like a cross between gagging for air and a forced, scratchy cry. My wife and I immediately jumped out of bed, sprinting towards the baby’s room. We flung upon the door and snapped on the lights. My wife pulls my son out of the crib. Normally a heavy sleeper, he is completely motionless.

“No no no no no no no no no no no no no no,” we stammer continually. I force my finger into his mouth, trying to detect any sign of breath. His eyes flicker open and he cries once, more out of annoyance than anything else.

“Oh, thank God,” I say, breathing in deeply. He wriggles in my wife’s arms, elated that both of his parents wanted to play so badly, they had waken him up (rather than the other way around).

“Want to stay up a bit with him, just to make sure he’s okay?” my wife asks. I nod. We take him back to our room, where he crawls over us, clapping and laughing.

I have had several brushes with death before. Once, while swimming in the ocean, a massive wave overpowered me, and the undertow dragged me across the sand, holding me under the water and unwilling to let go. I finally popped up for air and staggered to shore, bruised and cut. Another time, while hiking up a waterfall, I watched my friend lose his grip and slide uncontrollably towards the bottom. We watched helplessly until he thankfully caught hold of a root sticking out of the waterfall’s rocky face, from which he climbed back to safety. Another time, I collapsed while hiking up a hill towards a Buddhist temple in Korea. My mind realized as my whole body contracted into a ball, tingling and unable to breathe, that perhaps I might die. I was oddly at peace, but remembered that I had just started dating my first girlfriend (and future wife) two weeks ago, and she would be furious that I died while away and that maybe I should fight for life instead of giving up. Lucky for the both of us, I was spared.

This brush of death (or the perception thereof) was something wholly different, a completely new monster. I have rarely felt such a mind-numbing, awful terror that gripped my brain and heart and lungs with so much ferocity. At the birth of my son, I wondered if I would ever be one of those parents who would jump into a burning building to save his child. The thought seemed so foreign, so difficult to comprehend. At that moment; I got my answer. I would have done anything to hear my son cry again, even take my own life. There was no question.

I contemplate this new feeling, equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying. My wife and I are silent as my son climbs on our legs and arms, a solemn assembly of parents who had just experienced (if only briefly) our new, absolutely worst nightmare.

Then we heard the sound again, loudly, outside of our window. We looked at each other.

“A cat!” we hissed together. Relief floods into our faces, then embarrassment. My son giggles, as if to gently laugh at us. The clock reads 2 a.m. I’m just glad it’s the weekend, because (as predicted) my son decided to stay up for two more hours before going back to bed.

“Oh, my son,” I whisper into his hair as I hold him close. “I’m so glad you’re okay. You have no idea. But seriously. You need to go back to bed.” He patted my cheek condescendingly, then crawled away to play with a ball of yarn.

2 Comments

Filed under life stories, parenting, wordsmithing

We are all a bunch of babies

Parenting, I admit, has made me incredibly jaded.

Specifically, parenting has made me jaded towards children (babies, especially). But it has also made me jaded towards humanity as a whole, too, which is a feat considering I had managed to maintain a cheery, upbeat attitude towards humanity until now.

Actually, let me back up a bit.

Our culture tends to fetishize children. We ascribe a certain type of wisdom to children, one which can pierce through the guile and treachery of adulthood, revealing the heart of the matter. We argue that they are pure and innocent, that they are wildlife preserves that deserve the most utmost protection from anything nasty, even though the very world we’ve brought them into is the epitome of just that sometimes. Our Church culture, especially, promotes this fetish, mostly because of scriptural stories of Jesus saying we should be like little children, that heaven is made up of little children, and just in general being very protective about little children.

Now, I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t like children. I’m pretty sure he loves all of the children, like he says. But now that I am dealing with a child every day of my life, I have begun to wonder how Jesus actually thinks of us.

I cannot wait until my child grows up. I do not understand how parents can look back on these years with any kind of affection or wonderment (maybe I will later, but I cannot see it now). These past three months have been one of the most difficult months of my life. I rarely get more than four hours of sleep. My train of thought is generally interrupted at least once every thirty minutes by a wail that could chill the blood of a Nazgul. There are large stretches of my life where I am at the mercy of this baby, feeding him (and thus rendering myself useless; it is incredibly hard to do anything without hands), changing him, dressing him, bathing him, playing with him.

Meanwhile, this child could be termed as ungrateful, if he could even feel the difference between ingratitude and gratitude. Babies are a bundle of nerve cells and a very strong, healthy id. Everything the baby does involves him communicating to me that he wants something and he wants something now. He will scream until he gets it. And sometimes he doesn’t want anything. Sometimes, he is just tired, and all he does is scream. He can’t seem to calm himself down; I need to step in and soothe him and reassure him, and even then, he will struggle in my arms and scream at me as if it is all my fault. But eventually, he will calm down, and he will smile and coo at me as if the past hour scream marathon never happened.

There are many times in the day when I will stare into the eyes of my son. I love him fiercely, something that hurts physically sometimes, as if all the emotion in me is squeezed tightly in a vice. I will defend him to the death, if I have to, and perhaps my love will even reanimate me as an undead ghast in order for me to continue protecting my son. It’s that strong.

But there’s always this underlying baseline of frustration. My son begins to scream. I call out to him, let him know a bottle is forthcoming, and he only screams harder. Sometimes, he’s too busy screaming to even notice that I am trying to feed him. What a baby.

Yes, I stare into his eyes and think, This is how God sees us. We are a bunch of babies, a pack of humans that are bundle of nerves and very strong, healthy id. We scream and cry and howl and that’s all we do. I’m sure of it; we are a bunch of babies. And therein lies the predicament God finds himself in. “Come, let us reason together,” he says. Instead, we just scream at him harder, because there is no reasoning with a baby.

Babies are rarely cute. Well, my baby is cute (this has been empirically proven), but most babies I just don’t find that cute anymore. Maybe it’s that lingering baseline of irritation. Maybe constant exposure has taken the shine off of it. But babies are not cute. Babies are infuriating. Babies are ridiculous. But, very importantly, babies represent potential. Unlimited potential.

I’m excited for when my baby grows up. Then I can say, “Come, let us reason together,” and he’ll say, “Just keep the heals coming dad, then we’ll talk,” because we’re playing games. We can talk about religion. I can tell him about my experience and tell him about folklore and language and he will understand. Someday, he will be my equal and peer. He will develop from a screaming id to an adult, with passions and interests and sorrows and joys. We will share them together.

Within us lies a powerful potential as well. God did not create us with the intention of using us as his mere playthings, and I don’t think he really desires us to stay babies. He wants us to be like children, because children hold potential. They are a wellspring of opportunities that unfold slowly over time. God wants equals, peers which he can share creation with. He wants us to reason with him, to converse with him. He wants us to understand as he does. The problem is, we’re sometimes too busy screaming to realize that. But that’s okay; he’s patient. He can wait. He realizes that sometimes all you can do is wait for your child to stop screaming and notice that the nourishment is already there.

There will be 7 billion people on this Earth by the end of the year. 7 billion mouths to feed, 7 billion mouths screaming at God for something. God resides in yonder heavens on a golden throne of holy fire, but sometimes I wonder if every now and then, as he sees us, wailing miserably and selfishly, he feels like he’s in hell.

I am only just beginning to understand you, o Lord, as well as my own imperfections. Forgive me of my screaming and tantrums, for I know now what I do sometimes. Hopefully, it’s a phase, and I’ll grow out of it.

3 Comments

Filed under life stories, parenting, religion

Sometimes a Curse Is a Blessing

In Radiant Lights, Haunted Nights, a collection of Jewish folktales edited by Joachim Neugroschel, a folktale chronicled by Y.L. Kahan titled “Sometimes a Curse Is a Blessing” tickled my fancy. I hope you all enjoy it as well!

There was once a couple who lived in a village, and they had no children. One day a rabbi came and he wanted to spend the Sabbath there. The master of the house and the lady of the house showed him a great deal of respect, and they served him good food and drink. Then, on a Sunday morning, the host gave the rabbi a generous donation. The rabbi blessed them, wishing them disturbed nights and disturbed meals. And then he set out again.

When he was gone, the hostess dashed after him. “Rabbi, were you dissatisfied with the alms? Is that why you cursed us?”

The rabbi laughed: “I gave you a blessing so that God would give you children. In a house with children, there are disturbed nights and disturbed meals. Sometimes a child cries at night, and his parents are disturbed. And sometimes a child throws down a glass, and so a meal is disturbed. And these are purely blessings when you have children.”

I hope I can remember this sage advice when the baby arrives. And for you existing parents out there, count your blessings!

1 Comment

Filed under fokltale, life stories, parenting, religion

The Burning Palace

Tashrak, a pseudonym for Yisroel-Yoysef Zevin (1872-1926), adapted Buddhist tales into a Yiddish tradition. In one of the collections, “Five Stories about Buddha, the Indian Prophet”, he tells a story called “The Burning Palace.”

A rich man lived in a palace. The palace was very large but also very old. The walls and the columns were rotted and the roof was very dry. One day, while sitting there, the rich man smelled smoke. He dashed outdoors and saw that the entire building was ablaze. The man then remembered that his children were playing inside the palace, and he shuddered.

The terrified father stood there, not knowing what to do. He heard the children running about indoors and jumping and shouting merrily and cheerfully. He knew that if he told them the palace was on fire, they wouldn’t believe him. They’d think he wanted them to play outdoors. And if he dashed into the building and grabbed just one child at a time, he’d be unable to save the others, who’d scoot away from him and be lost in the flames.

Suddenly the father had a wonderful idea. “My children love toys,” he mused. “If I promise them some beautiful playthings, they’ll obey me.”

He now yelled: “C’mon children! Look at the lovely presents your father has brought you! Why, you’ve never seen such wonderful toys in all your lives! Come out as fast as you can!

And lo and behold! Children came running from all parts of the burning palace. They were mesmerized by the word “toys,” and their good father had brought them some marvelous playthings. But the children then ignored their presents, they gaped at the fire and they realized what great danger they had been in. They thanked their intelligent and loving father, who had saved them from certain death.

The prophet is well acquainted with human children, and he tells them that if they are good, they will receive good things, and that is how he saves them from evil.

And there are times when the children see the great danger that the prophet has saved them from, and they praise his name.

I am not a parent yet, and so I wanted to ask parents out there — is this good advice at all? On the one hand, I can see how this form of — well, for lack of better word — bribery could help, but in the end, it could also backfire, right? What do you parents think out there?

4 Comments

Filed under fokltale, life stories, parenting, religion

Oh Say, What Is Truth?: Marriage and Childbearing

I’m taking a sociology and philosophy course right now in school. I had several people in my church give misgivings about taking philosophy – apparently, the discipline can shake your testimony and turn you into an atheistic, flaming liberal. However, I’ve found my philosophy class to be incredibly enriching to my religious beliefs and hopefully can continue to pursue learning about such an interesting and varied field. Sociology, however, rocks my testimony to its core. I have since then come terms to the constant assailing on what I used to think as fundamental truths – in this time of uncertainty, this I know – God is real, and somehow, Jesus performed some sort of miracle that has cleansing, healing power. All the rest – all of the commentary, the folklore, the myths, the pithy sayings, the unchallenged assertions – is burned away like dross. In this way, I feel my testimony is now stronger than ever. I live in an environment of uncertainty, but of two simple truths, I now know more than ever. I need not base my belief on faith-promoting rumors but on truth.

However, my social mores have been attacked once more by the cold, unflinching discipline of scientific inquiry and statistics. This time, it concerns the family. My wife has never been too keen on having children any time soon. In our marriage, it has always been me that brings up the prospect of children or how we should raise them or when we should start considering child raising. And I attended some of the most liberal sexual education courses in high school ever. I saw a video of a head crowning during a birth. I learned how to put condoms on bananas. We even tried to see how many hands we could fit into a stretched condom (answer: A lot). We had these baby dolls to carry around that would cry if you did anything wrong, and then wouldn’t shut up until you rectified this (it revealed a surprising number of our classmates as potential child absuers. Scary). None of this has ever deterred me from abstinence until marriage or the desire to have babies.

But then I took sociology. Forget sex ed classes. Teach kids sociology and they will be scared straight.

Concerning the effect of children on marriage:

“Many in the U.S. grow up embracing the notion that having children brings one closer to one’s spouse and helps hold a marriage together. Actually, the data shows otherwise, in that, at least for the wife, the fewer the children the happier the marriage (Ross and Van Willigen 1996). The aforementioned researchers found that, ‘…children increased anger more for mothers than fathers and each additional child in the household increased the level of anger. Two major types of stressors included economic strains and the strains associated with childcare.'”

“Not only is it true that the fewer the number of children, the greater the level of marital happiness, all else equal, it is also the case that the less involved with children the couple is, the greater the level of marital happiness. The nature and degree of such involvement changes predictably over the life course – and along with it, marital satisfaction. Keller (2000) and others have charted how marital satisfaction starts off high (before the birth of children), takes a dip when children are born, reaches a marital low during the children’s teenage years, then rises back to a high level once the grown children have left the household. Non-parents and empty-nesters, he notes, enjoys the highest level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning divorce laws:

“..the more lenient the divorce laws, the higher a country’s over all level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning women working out of the home:

“Although some pundits have noted a correlation between women’s participation in paid employment and a higher divorce rate, researchers examining the actual dynamics within marriages find that the more equally shared the housework, over all, the happier the marriage (Hochschild and Machung 1989). And as may not be surprising, at least up to a point, wives working in paid employment hold greater leverage for negotiating an equitable sharing between themselves and their husbands on the chores front. So in a roundabout way, women’s greater paid labor participation has actually enhanced, rather than detracted from the over all rate of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning the effect of gay people parenting:

“Although there has been much consternation over potential harm to children raised in gay families, Golombok (2003) and colleagues, as well as Lambart (2005), find children raised by gay parents to be as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as their peers from heterosexual couple households. Actually, when difference between hetero- and homosexual parenting practices are found, the gay parents’ practices tend to be superior. Johnson and O’Connor (2002) found gay parents to be more responsive to their children and more child-oriented. Some critics worry children raised by gay parents will, themselves, somehow be forced into growing up gay. Bailey et all (1995), however, found 90% of sons of gay or bisexual men self-identified as heterosexual. And Golombok and Tasker (1996) found the large majority of female children raised by lesbians self-identified as heterosexual by their young adult years.”

And for the politically conservative:

“Another key reason for the trends of increased childlessness, delayed childbearing and the bearing of fewer children is policy decisions by American voters. With the ‘smaller government is better’ ethos that prevails in the present-day U.S., childbearing is, for all but the wealthiest or poorest, an act of financial self-destruction. What few provisions there are in the way of medical care and childcare are erratic at best and whether fine or poor quality, markedly expensive…

“With the lack of governmental provisions for health care and childcare, the U.S. is one of the most (financially) punitive nations on earth in which to raise a child.”

Now, I do not post these statistics to drag everyone around me down to hell. Quite the contrary. We must admit as a Church that divorce is a problem. Child abuse – verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually – is a problem. Keeping young people in the Church as they leave homes, get married, and contemplate families of their own is a problem. Truth, we are taught, are things as they really are, and we need to examine our social problems within the Church and the larger society in general as they really are, and not simply hide behind pithy sayings, comforting platitudes, or useless, folksy sayings. And I don’t want people trying to counter this information with circumstantial “well I know some families are happy and so this information must be untrue.” If you wish to counter these statistics, I implore you to dig up studies of your own – peer reviewed and accepted by the discipline’s community. I am not concerned with comfort when seeking truth or trying to convince myself out of a pickle. Realizing truth – things as they really are – can help us face the roots of these social evils and eradicate them, rather than treating symptoms haphazardly while never striving to understand the real reasons. To do less than that would be to fulfill Marx’s scathing indictment against religion as an opiate of the masses.

When we have widespread problems amongst society as an aggregate, there are serious structural problems that cause and perpetuate this problem. In the political, social, and economical environment we live in, how prudent is it to teach young married couples to have children right away? Can we truly condemn gay people as a whole as abominable, when they turn out to be better parents than us? Is this no different than Jacob’s Nephite society, who widely considered the Lamanites inferior when the Lamanite culture actually treated their families better? What cultural factors are contributing to high divorce rates, high rates of unhappiness within marriage, and why has child or spousal abuse not been stamped out within our population? And most importantly, which of these cultural mores we hold as sacrosanct concerning the family are rooted in gospel doctrine and theology and which are rooted within unchallenged, misguided, or ignorant cultural ideals or misinterpreted religious thought?

All quotes taken from Sociology: A Critical and Contemporary Perspective by Scott Lukas, MaryKriss Mcilwaine, Sue Dowden, and Chien Huang.

8 Comments

Filed under life stories, religion