What Should I Do?

In the sort of epilogue to my October 2011 post from a couple days ago, I noted that Danielle had mentioned in an email that I should blog more. What’s interesting about that–and perhaps is the reason I am actually trying to write more rather than just feeling sorry myself and getting defensive–is that earlier that same day I had written the following list:

Here’s the list, in the order in which it was written:

  • Housekeeping
  • Cooking
  • Daddying
  • Playtime for Sean
  • Writing
  • Exercise
  • Reading
  • Sleeping
  • Caring for Cats
  • Playtime for Me
  • Eating
  • Shopping
  • Making Things

Is it absurd that I feel like I need to make a list of the things that are important in my life? It may seem that way, at first, but writing things down, even simple things, gives you a remarkable sense of clarity. As the productivity guru David Allen says, your brain is the worst possible place to try to store information. The brain is remarkably good at processing things at the subconscious level, at finding patterns, but it sucks as a hard drive.

I found that I’d gone into simple Reaction Mode. This is the opposite of what might be called ‘living mindfully’ or ‘living intentionally.’ My wife Danielle is in the Navy and she refers to this as ‘putting out fires.’ Because if you’re constantly reacting to some minor (or major) crisis, you can’t make any actual progress. How are you going to cook dinner if all your dishes are dirty? You’re not. You’re going to order a pizza.

Reaction mode feels like a sort of default setting in the human brain. Hungry? Find food. Tired? Sleep. Horny? Have sex. Need to club Ned for taking your meat? Find a big stick. In danger? RUN!

But eventually, after many thousands of years, somebody decided to build a house, and then a village, and then a city. And then we had to figure out a whole new way to live, a higher setting. The default imperative (Don’t die) was no longer enough.

And yet Reaction Mode remains attractive to a certain old part of our brains. Or my brain, at least. Especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed by life. It’s easy to just react. But I’m trying to break out of this mode. And part of that process is going to be writing about it here.

I hope.

October 2011

Well, that worked out great! As you can see from the almost ten months that have passed since my last post, life for me did not become any more accommodating with regard to the writing habit. It was all I could do just to keep up with my monthly six hundred words for Military Spouse Magazine (my frequent lateness in delivering those words is probably the reason they’ve decided to run me every other month in 2012).

Something very bad happened to me over the course of the past two years, and something very wonderful. First, because I believe in always hearing the good news first so that it won’t be tainted by the bad, the wonderful: I got to spend every day with Sean. I got hugs and kisses. I got the thumbs up sign when he liked something I made for dinner. And I got to learn how to be a dad.

There’s a part of becoming a parent that’s all instinct, what some refer to as ‘lizard brain stuff.’ That’s the part of us that wants to protect our children from All Bad Things. But the lizard brain is also the part that carries the programming for how we react to what I call Seananigans: the boundary-testing, the games. For me, the result of too many Seananigans in any one day is that I become The Bear. At a certain point, I just start roaring and throwing my weight around. (I feel it’s important to clarify here that I’m using metaphor.) This is usually when Sean does what Danielle refers to as ‘Poking the Bear.’ His reaction is not to become docile and eager to please; his reaction is to see if he can find a sharper stick. It usually ends with Sean in timeout—crying loudly enough for the neighbors to hear—and me exhausted in every possible way.

But I’m getting into the bad news part of this. Let me just finish the good news. The really good news is that I’ve gotten better at taming the bear.

I wrote the above last October, and it sat there untouched for eight months. Then Danielle reminded me that if I’m going to keep my website in my email signature, I probably ought to post something on it once in a while. So here we go.

Hurricane Danielle?

Danielle has gotten a storm named after her!
Danielle

It’s fully expected that this storm will strengthen into a hurricane, and then there will be many, many jokes about Hurricane Danielle around this house.

We’ll have to wait and see what, if any, impact this will have on her ship, but I’m sure her shipmates will also get a lot of mileage out of this.

Daddying

Well, what has been going on?

For one thing, I find myself answering the following question a lot, lately:

“What’s that, Daddy?”

“Daddy, what’s that?”

But a lot of other stuff has been going on, too. Like potty training. And getting used to Danielle being on sea duty, again.

And putting Sean back in bed—over and over and over again.

It’s this last part that I’m finding most difficult to deal with. By the end of the day, my Patience Meter is about at empty, so following the experts’ advice (don’t talk to him, don’t make eye contact, just take him back to bed) is hard to follow.

How can this be fun for Sean? He’s gotten out of bed nine times since I started writing this blog post. Ten. Seriously: what kind of satisfaction does he get from this little game? And when I eventually lose my temper? How is that incentive for him to continue?

Eleven.

It must be some perverse quirk (twelve) of the toddler psyche. Somehow, it’s a game (thirteen). A game he’s very good at, and I’m very bad at (fourteen).

(Fifteen.)

It must have some kind of point system (sixteen).

Make it out of my room: 1 pt.
Make it down the hall: 2 pts.
Make it (seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, 21, 22, 23) into Mum and Dad’s room: 5 pts.
Jump up on Mum and Dad’s bed: 10 pts.
Make it downstairs: 50 pts. (24)
Make Dad shout: a million pts. (25)
(26, 27, 28)
Cry and make Dad come back and tell me he’s sorry: win.
(29, 30, 31, 32)

I earn points on (33) a different scale: (34) Every time I successfully put (35) him back in bed without speaking or shouting or making eye contact, I score (36). The number of points I score increases as the game goes on because the difficulty of the one maneuver I have at my disposal also increases with time, according to some algorithm I don’t have the (37) mathematical wherewithal to (38) work out.

I win when he goes to sleep. That’s worth (39) infinite points.

Sean just scored 50 points by making it downstairs (40). I figure my (41) successful retrieval was worth (42) about (43) a hundred thousand points, based on my level of irritation, right now.

He’s now bringing different things out of his room (44) every time: his blanket, his giant stuffed duck, his water bottle, his blanket and his stuffed duck (45). In his mind, that must be worth something. Perhaps I should assign point values to the various (46) things he could bring with him with each successive escape….but, really, who’s keeping score? (47)

The incredible part is, after almost 50 returns to his bed, he has the balls to ask me if he can watch TV. Astonishing.

48, 49, 50, and…

I win.

UPDATE: 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57… (I’m still winning, though).

From the Early Morning Desk, Norfolk Edition

[Clears throat]
Good morning.
[Blows cobwebs off blog]
Well, we’ve been busy! Danielle has reported to her ship, Sean is potty training, and I—well I haven’t been blogging, apparently.

What I have been doing is a lot of gardening and home maintenance, computer repair, and “home theater optimization.” (Separate posts to follow for some of these.)

The biggest change is that Danielle is now gone from roughly 5 a.m. until 6:00 or 6:30 p.m.—on a good day. On a not-so-good day, she hasn’t been able to come home at all, as her ship is prepping for a long-ish trip later this year.

This, as you can imagine, has been hard on her. Not getting to see Sean for more than maybe an hour a day will be the most difficult adjustment by far.

The adjustments I’ve had to make are trivial, by comparison. In addition to writing, Sean-rearing, and house-wrangling, I can now list “gardening” amongst my daily activities. It’s been a long time since I had a yard to care for, and I’d forgotten how quickly it can become an overgrown eyesore. I’ve been referring to all yard work as “gardening” because I’m hoping the Power of Positive Thinking will help me see the grasses, flowers, trees, and shrubberies outside my windows as part of a creative enterprise, and not simply as endless drudgery.

In fact, maybe I should refer to all my daily activities as “gardening.” Caring for the people and pets and other possessions that fill my family’s life.

It sounds very Zen, don’t you think?

Down South

Well here we are, down in Virginia, back in Norfolk, where it’s already feeling like spring. I actually did yard work today (which I personally have been referring to as “gardening,” because it sounds less like drudgery).

It’s good to be back.

Filling in the Blank Spaces on the Map

oldnewport

Succubus

Last night I woke up at about 12:30, and I wasn’t wearing any pants. This is curious because I was wearing pants when I went to bed. After that, I did not sleep well. I just kept waking up.

And so this morning when the alarm spun up at ten past six, I actually got up. I heard the compact disc spindle motor whir to life well before any music played, giving me ample time to sit up and hit snooze before the opening notes of U2’s “Beautiful Day” or Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” or Tracy Chapman’s “Change” vibrated forth, which makes me wonder why we have an alarm clock that can play compact discs in the first place. I knew the coffee would be finished soon in the auto-drip, and I’d only been about a quarter asleep for the past hour anyway.

Father and Son

I have a lot on my mind. We’re winding down our time here in Newport, and I’ve been thinking about my career and what potential opportunities I’ll find after the move. So yesterday I took Sean to the bookstore to have a look at some magazines on parenting to see if I might find a new venue for my work there.

Alas, no.

The idea I’d had was for a sort of “Father and Son” monthly column about my adventures with Sean. Sure, it would be another parenting column, but it would also be a traveling column and maybe a cooking column. It could be a lot of things. It could be really interesting and fun.

But America’s big child-rearing magazines—Parents and Parenting—don’t seem to have the space for something like that. They are almost indistinguishable from each other at a quick glance, and like many magazines, they are full of numbered lists and bullet points and subheads. It’s the website-ification of printed matter (he writes on his website), the “we’ll think for you” school of writing.

I’m being glib. Those magazines are in the business of service journalism, and that’s what a lot of parents are looking for. (Help me raise my kid! Please!) It’s just that they’ve gone so far into the realm of service journalism that they’ve left no room for anything else.

The January Thaw

In an attempt to cheer myself up, I left the bookstore with Sean to do some exploring. There is a road—Reservoir Rd.—that I’ve been itching to hike for months. It all started when Danielle noticed it on the map while we were out for a drive. But we couldn’t find the actual road sign. What we presumed to be Reservoir Rd. proved to be nothing but a two-track that was unsuitable for the Raptor, all-wheel drive or not.

What made this road even more mysterious to me was a conversation I overheard while waiting in line for coffee. One man was telling another that he’d been managing a “gentleman’s farm behind St. George’s (School).” That had to be off Reservoir Rd.! I had to see it.

So finally I was going to take Sean on an exploratory hike. The January temp had soared above the freezing point, and the sun was shining. We drove as far as we could along the paved portion of Reservoir and parked. Then I put Sean on my shoulders and set off.

The two-track was muddy and gashed by truck tires. Lumps of unmelted snow and patches of grass were the only safe places to step. Sean held onto me by the hair as I walked past empty fields. I saw the campus of St. George’s to the East.

And that was all there was to see. The house was not magnificent, and there was no livestock. I don’t know what I’d expected to see on a “gentleman’s farm,” but it was more than empty fields and rusted tractor parts. Is it just an excuse to own a lot of land? Maybe the recession’s been hard on them, too.

Nevertheless, I felt good as I walked back up the track with Sean on my shoulders, my hair in his fists. Clouds were moving in and snowflakes were floating down and it was a good morning.

Filling in the Blank Spaces

When Danielle got home from work, I finally got around to telling her that I had woken up in the night pantsless. She swore she had nothing to do with it. Some mysteries are doomed to never be solved.

How to Piss Off My Wife

I’ve got a new post at milhusbands.com about our recent car-buying experience.

Then Danielle had to sit down with the business manager and hear her pitch. And, finally, when everything was signed, when I was off playing with Sean, the manager (a great beast of a woman with terrifying hair) told Danielle she also lived in Newport.

“Is your son in pre-school?”

Danielle told her, no, but that I stayed home with him. Whereupon the woman said, “Oh, he’s doing the Mr. Mom thing.”

keep reading

Yikes!

It should have been a great experience, but this one little thing was like putting a dollop of shit icing on a beautifully decorated cake.

Still, though, we love the car. (Zoom-zoom!)