No Easy Beauty

Charlotte and I pulled into Bolingbrook just before midnight last night. It was the end of a 2,400 mile journey that took us to Wyoming and back again. With the exception of the 2 1/2 hours we sat in traffic due to construction and accidents it was a good trip.  We drove out to Laramie to drop off my husband, son and the cats.

My husband, Stephan, has a new job in Laramie and we’ve signed a lease on a house.  After a day of getting them settled, Charlotte and I loaded back into the Jeep and headed out on the road again.  We swung up through Worland to visit my grandmother.  That added half a day to our trip, but I hadn’t seen Grandma since 2008 and I wasn’t about to skip a chance to see her.

Charlotte and roach in Wyoming
Charlotte and I take a selfie in the Big Horn Basin.

Driving through Wyoming I got to show my daughter all the things I loved about my home state.  I wasn’t trying to convince her to want to move there, I just wanted to give her an insight into where her mother came from.  Charlotte kept pointing out places where we could set the castle I plan to build one day.

The drive also gave me a lot of time to process what’s been going on.  Where I grew up is not an easy place to love.  You have to look for its beauty and if you can’t find it, the land doesn’t care.  I watched the landscape roll past us, desolate but dotted with life determined to thrive.  I thought about how I had been raised to know that life isn’t easy and won’t hand anything to you.  With that in mind, I was taught, I was supposed to be grateful for anything life gave me and not complain.  Never ask for anything more, was the prevailing wisdom.  It took thirty plus years for me to unlearn that second lesson.  Life might not be easy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fight for what I want.

Grandma, Grandaughter & Great Grandaughter
Grandma, Grandaughter & Great Grandaughter

I’ve got two more weeks before I get an idea of whether or not my relocation petition will be granted.  I’ve spent almost six thousand dollars on this fight, and I will spend thousands more to finish it.  I am not trying to take Charlotte from her dad, I’ve been adamant from the beginning of this legal battle.  I’ve stated that I would work with him to make sure they have time together.  But I can’t let him have full custody of her.

My ex-husband is a homophobe who has not supported our daughter since she came out as a lesbian last year.  He hasn’t taken her mental health issues seriously, ignoring and denying her repeated requests for help for months until I intervened and got her into therapy and on medication.  In the past he preyed on an underage girl, chatting with her about masturbation and being “friends with benefits”.  The list of reasons why he can’t have her full time goes on and on and on.  Charlotte needs to have a relationship with her father.  She also needs to be protected from him.

Life isn’t easy.  Neither are the decisions I have to make.  If the relocation isn’t approved I will remain in Illinois.  I’ll get a studio apartment for me and Charlotte.  My husband will remain in Laramie.  His new job pays more than his previous one.  There are opportunities for advancement there and he will be enrolling in the Masters program for Health and Kinesiology at the University of Wyoming.  My friends and family in Laramie have already set to making my guys feel welcome and loved.

Charlotte and Ben scrambling over rocks. My kids are part goat, apparently.
Charlotte and Ben scrambling over rocks. My kids are part goat, apparently.

This will be an extreme hardship on all of us.  I’m going to suffer financially.  Charlotte will still have to deal with a move as we won’t be able to stay in the surrounding area.  My son will not have his mother.  My husband will have to be a single father.  My daughter is worth fighting for, though.  She is worth suffering for.  I’ll be beside her, looking for the beauty in the bleak scenery for as long as she needs me.

Viking Dad: Snippets of Ragnarok #1 – Wrecking Ball

There are few moments in parenthood where we actually have joyful control of a situation involving our kids. Such as at six A.M. when the children aren’t awake yet and you’ve already got breakfast on the table.  There’s nothing quite like the joy you feel when you burst through their bedroom door, and bellow out “I came in like a wrecking ball” from that song by Miley Cyrus.

Yeah, it’s moments like these I cherish.

Beneficial Interaction with your Kids

Being part of several Stay-at-Home Dad groups, I get to see a very different side of raising children than the environment I was raised in, particularly many different individuals telling their story or asking for assistance, or just plain making fun of their situation.  Laughter, shared with a group, is a healthy thing.

This post is inspired by one of them, a journalist who writes about fatherhood (among other things, but mainly about being a dad) called DadScribe (www.facebook.com/DadScribe).  He brought up an interesting comment about Minecraft (Pocket Edition, since he references iPads) which of course pulled me in.  It was simple and quite humorous and to paraphrase: he didn’t know anything about Minecraft, but if he did, he’d leave signs from the mobs to his kids like, “Eat your carrots. Love, the Creepers” or other things along those lines.

Not only did it give me a good laugh, but it also got me thinking.  This is a two birds with one stone moment. I mean, I’m writing from the perspective of someone who actually likes and knows a bit about Minecraft.  I wouldn’t have had that if it weren’t for my daughter’s love of it.  There are nights where the two of us will settle in for an hour of Xbox Minecrafting (http://idiorhythmic.com/vikingdad-minecraft-blues-74-tools-lava-death/) and have a great time.

The ‘a-HA!’ moment came when I thought to myself, “Sure, there are things that Charlotte likes that I’m not really into, but it’s really great that we have Minecraft (and other stuff, like RPG’s, Archery, Boffer weapons) to do together.”  It’s like I’m able to be a cool Dad AND I get to do something I like.  I’m pretty lucky, but the point I’m getting at here is that there are things that aren’t as cool or as fun, or that we just simply don’t have the time to learn, but there are still ways to get involved and be that cool parent.

There may be things your kids really enjoy that they can just go on for hours about that mean nothing to you, because either it’s not your thing or you just don’t have the time to learn.  That’s OK.  We don’t have to be involved in every facet of our kids’ lives. In fact, it’s probably good that we’re not. Anyroad, just because we don’t know how or that it isn’t really our thing doesn’t mean we can’t get involved.  If nothing else, it shows your kid that you really care and can be a good laughing point in the future, “remember that one time when Dad tried to play Minecraft and got pushed off a cliff by a cow?”

So, with that in mind, if your kids like Minecraft and you know nothing about it, I’ve included the below tutorial (though please forgive the less than professional screenshots)where you can have a little bit of fun pranking your kids with signs(for the Pocket Edition, meaning the one the tablet):

 

 

Being human… and a stay-at-home parent

So, given recent events on our website and some recent questions regarding how to deal with filling a non-stereotypical role on various stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) groups I’m a part of, I thought it appropriate to write about those topics.  My hope is that this will help raise awareness and increase consideration when dealing with those dads who are taking a more supportive role in the household, but the reality of it is that those that read this are probably already aware and considerate.

First things first, there will always be ‘haters’ and the decisions you will make will more than likely upset someone. Knowing that helps increase the level of resolve in making some choices particularly where your family is concerned, but sometimes even that level of resolute awareness isn’t enough.  Especially with choices that are emotionally charged and/or deeply rooted in a sense of self.

Choices that revolve around becoming a SAHD and not being the person who provides the paycheck for the family may seem easy to deal with on the surface (like hearing someone in the line at the grocery store say, “Man, I’d love to not have to go to work”) but they’re not.

We’ve been raised in a patriarchal society where the man is the person who brings home the money (and even then is judged on how much he brings in and his position at where he goes to bring that money in) and the woman is the person who stays at home with the kid(s) and is the caretaker of the house. We’ve seen just how our society reacts to those that break from those stereotypes.  While times are changing and considerate awareness is growing (in aspects of more than just SAHDs), there are still those situations of intolerance and ignorance.

We’ve all, by now, heard the statement that when dads are alone with their children, they’re ‘babysitting’. While it may have been said in a joking manner, it’s not.  It’s derogatory and demeaning. It’s a thought process that belittles and invalidates the efforts those fathers spend with their child.

We are all people, encountering other people in a single moment, and placing assumptions on motivations of actions in that moment is just plain ignorant.  Most people I meet are not Sherlock Holmes, so they should stop acting the part.  We do not know what led that person to that moment, we do not know their motivations for doing what they are doing and certainly can’t read their thoughts to discover who they are.  Even friends and family we’ve spent significant time with aren’t open books or 100% predictable.

There is an easy way to help curb this behavior, that, unfortunately requires a level of awareness that people tend to ignore:  Ask yourself, before you speak, what it is you expect to receive by saying what you are about to say.  We may not be able to read the thoughts of others, but our own thoughts are right there.  Listen to them. Talk to them.  Have a conversation with them about this situation.  In other words, think before you speak. Sometimes this is an epiphany to some, particularly when a father, who was the ‘bread-winner’ is now the one at home.  For me, it opened up a whole new level of respect for those parents who stayed at home.

Given the new path being forged by the SAHD, it can be difficult to be resolute in the face of confrontation with what has always been viewed before as inadequacy. Especially when it’s new to the particular SAHD or when there are issues of self-worth being worked through in accepting the new role. To those who are, new and veteran alike, I have some things to say (and I’ll keep saying them):

You are awesome!  You are doing what’s right for your family, your child(ren) and yourself. You are setting an example of the wonderful diversity inherent in humankind. You are courageous enough to face the potential societal slings and arrows. You are showing your love to your partner and to your children.  They see you being present and they see how you deal with those obstacles that breaking from the normal parameters can bring. You are not only their parent, but also their teacher.  You are their window into how to cope with a world who doesn’t always accept things that break from stereotypes.  They also see that you are human, imperfect and emotional.  What they see, they become.

Show your children what it means to be human.  What it means to be a parent.  What it means to put forth that effort in a way you’re not used to and a way that breaks from the norm.

Show others respect, for we don’t know what brought them to this moment or why they would say hurtful things (whether intentional or not) but have the courage to call them out on it, with the faith that your child will see you, and will follow suit when they’re older and able.

You are their example of what they can become. Be you, so that they can be them.

So, if you see a stay-at-home parent, whatever role, be considerate and understanding.  They work hard on more than just physical chores.

Who is Viking Dad? (in about 750 words)

Well, I can start by saying that I’m not the guy in the YouTube video of the same name. That’s a start.  I was adopted, raised in Michigan, spending the school year in the lower peninsula and the summers in the upper peninsula.  I also, with this blog as a record, am living for and through my family.

Born in 1970, I displayed signs of Alopecia Totalis (meaning I have no body hair at all) starting when I was two years old.  It made elementary school a bit rough, as even those children in the minority still had each other, where I was the only one with that condition.  I found the wonderful worlds of Gary Gygax (Dungeons and Dragons) in the summer of 1980 (I was 9) and embraced it whole-heartedly.

I also went through an awkward (just like everyone else) time in that social circus we call junior and high school.  I was not the average kid. I didn’t like or play sports, I didn’t have an affinity for anything other than escapism by not really being present in my own world and substituted by living in a fantasy world.  Thanks to R.A. Salvatore, in the mid to late 1980’s I had a realm to escape to.

I had anger management issues. Having been picked on and made fun of my entire childhood and adolescence (and not having a solid sense of self at all, nor any confidence to be able to shrug it off as I desperately wanted to be a part of a group, to feel like I belonged), I repressed all that hurt and anger.  I then found an outlet for it, though it was unhealthy and hurtful.  I worked out lifting weights (not all that bad), trained a bit as a boxer (still not all that bad) and then started picking fights (bad).   Being beaten within an inch of my life (maybe a little bit less than) by several people put things into perspective for me.

I turned to theatre.  I got a scholarship at the local community college and started succeeding. I transferred to a four year university and at the direction of everyone other than myself, I failed. I moved around, got married, got divorced, moved some more, tried again and this time got my B.A. in Theatre and started feeling really good.

Then I went to graduate school and it all went downhill again. I moved around some more, got married again.  I found solace in escapism once more, in the worlds of darkness presented by the NPO (then) called the Camarilla, now known as the Mind’s Eye Society.  Things went downhill once more and I got divorced… again.

It wasn’t all bad, though.  I met the shield-maiden in the Cam/MES and it has lead to the happiest, healthiest, most fun relationship I’ve ever been in (going on seven years now, married for five of them).

In 2008 I moved to the Chicagoland area, in 2009 I married the shield-maiden and in 2011, our son, Benjamin (aka Benvolio, Viking in Training) was born.  He has an older half-sister from the shield-maiden’s previous marriage.

Together the four of us work to not just survive, but thrive and live in this world.  We are trying to live creatively, choosing happiness over struggle.  We are in debt, always. We have struggles, perpetually.  We have bills, things breaking down, issues and obstacles from both of us having previous marriages.

Despite all that, we choose to embrace the moments of happiness instead of dwelling on the struggles.  The moments shared playing and working together:  Bonding over Minecraft and Nachos; Planning for the future of training with swords and archery.  In the process of teaching, I am learning the real life issues of helping my children grow up in a world that is nothing like the one I grew up in.

My children see me working on tasks that break stereotypes.  I cook, I bake, I do dishes, I do laundry. I make their lunches, and help with the homework.  I bake bread for our family two to three times a week.  I make sure the kids have a decent breakfast.  I play with them and involve myself in their creativeness.  I say, “Yes, and…” (most of the time).

Today, Ben turns 4.  Today celebrates over 1200 days of successfully raising our son and helping him survive (despite our setbacks and failures during that time).

Today, we have birthday cake for breakfast.  Happiness.

Find your moment of happiness and embrace it!

 

VikingDad Pro-Tip #15: The Power of Nachos

If things are going rough, make a snack and bond over it. I’ve yet to see two people be angry at each other while eating a plate of nachos.  Kids are no different. They get angry and frustrated, particularly easily when hungry, so take a few minutes, sprinkle some shredded cheese over some tortilla chips, pop it in the microwave for a minute or so and then voila, you have a plate of instant bonding. Never underestimate the power of nachos.

VikingDad Pro-Tip #3 (Yes, and…)

One of the things I’ve learned from interactive and improvisational theatre is the rule of “Yes, and…” as opposed to “No, this…”.  This works for children at play as well.  Kids have an expansive imagination that doesn’t adhere to many rules, if any, since they’ve not had the experience to apply them. That means they think of things that are hilariously inappropriate to any laws of science we know. Encourage this.  Instead of saying, “No, Boba Fett can’t wear Princess Leia hair, have Han Solo as a boyfriend and won’t be able to fly in the McGonagall dress using his jet pack” say, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool, and how about giving him a purple lightsaber” or something to that effect.  It will help both avoid a potential argument AND help the child feel you’re on the same page.   Also, as an addendum, when your child does say, “No, that won’t work…” ask why.  Encourage them to also embrace the “Yes, and…”

 

Putting a Price Tag on it.

I am writing this with my experience viewed through the lens of a now stay-at-home-Viking (aka dad), but I believe that the perspectives I discuss in this post can help enlighten those who have never thought about what it means to be a stay-at-home-parent.

There are two very distinct perspectives that I believe need to be discussed and thought about when looking at what it takes to support your family with a stay-at-home-parent:

  • What does your family need, financially speaking, to maintain their current standard of living;
  • What worth are the efforts put forth doing the menial duties in supporting the family.

A very prudent note is that none of these things can really happen effectively (or to help promote a happy family since there’s a very distinctive difference between surviving and living) without, at minimum, a strong level of communication with your partner.  This should not be an ultimatum given, but a plan open to discussion and malleable.  Respect given is respect earned and received in kind (which goes for more than just family, but that’s another blog post for another time).

The first point is the most utilitarian but also the most necessary.  Every parent should know what they need, financially, to make their house run (utilities, mortgage, groceries, gas, etc…). If you know that, then you can break down what needs to be brought into the household (through whatever means) in order to make sure that your family has a roof over its head.  Whether this is from an alternate source of revenue (like starting your own business, or freelancing) or from the standpoint of the spouse finding a new line of work, it’s important to know how much, minimum, you’ll need.  This is the easy part since it’s a somewhat static number and is told to you by someone else.

The second point, while not the most necessary, is more important to recognize and extremely vital to a healthy family environment.  As such, it is the more difficult to assess.  Making sure the family has a nutritious breakfast, lunches are made (for the partner or children who leave the house for the day) and everyone has what they need is just the start of the day.  Then there’s the pet maintenance, cleaning, cooking/prepping for dinner, dishes, laundry that needs to be washed and dried and folded and put away, bill paying, list making, and consumable household supplies that need to be noted (if not acquired) though this is not the comprehensive list. For increased difficulty, add caring for a newborn/infant/toddler (again only by experience can one understand just how difficult it can be).  All these things require attention and doing it with a child not only adds time to the task, but also splits attention which exponentially increases the amount of energy required.  Then there’s helping school age children with homework, making the dinner, cleaning up after the dinner and making certain the children are showered/bathed and put to bed.  Is there a price that one can put on that?  If you say yes, then think of that number.  Now triple it (at least).

Like educators, stay-at-home-parents are greatly under-valued and under-appreciated (not to mention under-paid in the case of teachers) in our society and why I feel it’s important to have a strong relationship built around respect with your partner who is performing these tasks. They do it out of love and necessity and it oftentimes can be linked to their sense of self-worth.  Keep that in mind the next time you put on a clean shirt or eat off a clean plate.  Take the time to speak your appreciation. Not only will it help your family thrive happily, but it will set a great example of how parents should be to the children who are paying attention (even if you think they don’t listen).

While this is certainly not the definitive list of perspectives to consider, I believe they are very important to keep in mind.  Remember, the parent who stays at home works too, quite a bit and deserve to be recognized for their efforts.  It’s not all wine and Minecraft when the other parent is away at work.

It’s Not All Wine and Minecraft

So, if you were to read a lot of bloggers out there, myself included, we joke, we poke fun, we appeal to heartstrings.  A lot of what you don’t see, however, are the moments where we are less than the ideal picture represented online.  I don’t want to speak for any of them other than myself, but as I’m a human and as they’re human, I simply assume that they have similar feelings… like all parents do.   Granted, I’m just going off my experience as both having been a child and now being a parent.

These moments exist in a similar fashion as their more jovial counterparts, fleeting and yet mood-changing.  The amazing thing about children can also be the most frustrating.  They have an almost zen-like ability to be a screaming tantrum monster one second and a cherubic cute factory the next with no turn-around time.  Adults take longer to adjust and tend to hang on to stuff longer, especially the negative.

There are moments when my near inexhaustible levels of patience have been nearly exhausted and I’m just counting the minutes until bedtime.  Suddenly, an explosion of anger from him (which usually involves throwing things or fists or feet) or a sudden explosion of pain from me as I’m hit in the runestones for the umpteenth time causes a string of obscenities to race through my mind (as well as some anger, frustration or rage to course through my body) and occasionally a few spew out (which then necessitates a discussion about what are and are NOT ‘Ben Words’).  These are the moments that take the most out of you as a parent, these are the moments that make you long for just five minutes alone in the bathroom.

It’s hard during these moments to recall that the little emotional maelstrom of spinning bellicosity in front of you is not your enemy, is not trying to intentionally hurt you, and is, in actualty, one of the greatest loves of your life.  It’s hard sometimes to stay calm and rational and, above all, act as an adult, when you’re surrounded by the tiny terror of tantrums all day.

So, what I’m saying, essentially, that while a lot of the times the internet makes parenting look easy or funny, it’s not the whole picture.  Parenting is difficult and filled with a LOT of unexpected twists and turns, not all of them good ones.

For all of you who are parents, I want you to know that your efforts are appreciated.  Maybe not by the child, and not at that moment, but there will be a time in that child’s future where the light bulb will spring to life and the epiphany will hit when they look into their own child’s eyes and realize the love, patience and effort it took to bring them to where they are today.   Those are the moments we work so hard for.

Parents, tonight in the quiet, take time to enjoy what you’ve done so far, have a glass of wine and congratulate yourself on your efforts.  You’ve done well.  Reward yourself with a little Minecraft (or whatever past time you enjoy that you’ve not gotten to do as much because of your priority of raising children), but above all, love and forgive yourself.  Be kind to yourself.  After all, we know that kids are prone to do what we do and not what we say, no matter how often we encourage the reverse.

VikingDad Pro-Tip #28 (Know Your Surroundings)

When you have a rambunctious toddler, like I do, it’s important to make sure they get some socialization and play time in that doesn’t hurt your wallet too much. Know what local restaurants have ‘Kids Eat Free’ days and what’s around them.

For instance, usually every Tuesday is “Kid’s Eat Free” at our local IKEA.  They also have a wonderful thing called Småland.   It’s where you can drop your kids off for an hour and they get to play with other kids.  There are some requirements, but it’s a great way to go if you want to have a “regular” thing your kids get to do.  After the hour is up, we then usually go upstairs to the cafeteria and he gets to have lunch, for free.  Me, I bring my ‘Free Coffee for Life’ mug and enjoy the atmosphere, get some ideas for household stuff and basically get an hour of Dad time.

There are a bunch of restaurants locally that offer the ‘Kids Eat Free’ thing and usually nearby places for them to have fun (like a park, a playplace, children’s museum, etc…) or really anything that you’re into that you want to share with you child.

If you need help, there’s a wonderful website I’ve discovered called Kid’s Meal Deals.  You can search locally but as anything you find on the internet: trust but verify (i.e. call ahead to make sure before you leave the house).

Good luck fellow berserkers… and Happy New Year!