25 Reasons Why Raising a 3 Year Old is Like Having a Drunk College Roommate All Over Again

The late nights, the loudness, the curious smells, the paralyzing headaches. No I’m not reminiscing  about my wild college days. I’m talking about this ordeal known as parenthood.

My son, Dylan is currently in the throes of the dreaded “Terrible 3’s”. The cantankerous stage of childhood development that convinces parents that they are feeding, bathing and padding a college fund for Satan’s seed.

The other night, Dylan is refusing to take a bath and when I say refusing , he doesn’t politely protest, ” Oh Father, I’ll pass on cleansing myself tonight. However, I do appreciate your attempts to rid me of this dumpster-like odor.”

No, he is sprinting about the house, naked, screaming in foreign tongues as snot and tears puddle on his face and chest.

Amidst this madness, which in our house is known as Tuesday Night-Bath Night, I realized I had been here before. The crying, the gibberish, the yelling transported me back to absurdity of college life. Now my college roommate was a bit of a challenge. He was often drunk. Which meant he was loud, demanding and  unpredictable. Which often required me to assume an authoritative parenting role in our dorm room — scolding him, threatening him, and forcing him to go to bed. Which in retrospect was great preparation for parenthood.

So, like a good parent,  I spent the last few days watching Dylan and noting is behavior and I was astounded to learn how similar raising a 3 year old was to living with a drunken college roommate. Here are my observations…

  1. They have no respect for grammar. They say things like “Me hungry.” and “Car go fast now.”
  2. They are always right– about EVERYTHING.
  3. They make outrageous demands like “I want a dinosaur!”
  4. They eat without decorum, utensils or a fear of diabetes.
  5. They cry for no reason.
  6. They laugh for no reason.
  7. They say curious things like” I think I pooped myself.”
  8. IMG_1539They secretly pee themselves.
  9. In public places–the library, the mall, KFC–they often throw themselves to the floor and refuse to get up.
  10. They get angry at you for not understanding their babbling gibberish.
  11. Their clothes are often mismatched, disheveled and stained.
  12. You have to repeat yourself over and over and over again and even then– they refuse to listen to you.
  13. They adamantly disagree with logic and denounce proven theories like gravity.
  14. If you really want to enjoy yourself you need to find them a babysitter.IMG_1534
  15. Their hair is often unexplainably sticky.
  16. They scream at you for no reason.
  17. They refuse to go to bed, claim they’re not tired and yet once in bed they fall asleep faster then you can say, “Sealy Posturepedic”.
  18. When they puke, they leave it and expect you to clean it up.
  19. They break your stuff and do not apologize.
  20. On days that are clearly not your birthday they will sing “Happy Birthday” to you.
  21. They like to hold incoherent conversations with strangers.
  22. A car ride will undoubtedly induce sleep.
  23. They leave trails of crumbs and food wrappers. IMG_1547
  24. They stain carpets.
  25. And mercifully, when the night is over, you have to carry them off to bed.

So Kevin, wherever you are, thank you.  Your ridiculousness and tomfoolery prepared me well for the tribulations of parenthood.

 

 

Getting Schooled By My 5 Year Old

Cindy and I decided today, a mild February afternoon, to take the kids up to the local park.  So the kids mount their bikes and Cindy inflates the basketball and challenges me to a game of Around-the-World and of course I accept.

At the park we offer Haley (7) a dollar to watch Dylan(2) on the playground so Cindy and I can keep laser focus in our attempts to stake claim as Around-the-World World Champion.

Chase, who is currently playing instructional basketball, asks if he can play. We tell him he can as long as he plays by the rules– because we Armstrong’s take our basketball seriously.

The game is ugly. A soundtrack of bangs and clangs.

Cindy and I slog our way around- the- world missing more shots than we make. We blame age, the sun, the wind, Donald Trump, gluten-free diets and our canvas shoes. We punctuate our frustration by slamming the ball. We search the heavens for help,  for the ghost of Pistol Pete Maravich. We don’t say it but we sense it –the notion of giving up and moving on with our lives. All the while Chase continues to shoot and continues to miss.

Eventually, I let Cindy win.  (I’m fully immersed in testing the bumper sticker theory of Happy Wife = Happy Life but that’s a blog for a different day). And secretly we are both relieved the game, the torture, is over.

Cindy triumphantly  dances over to the bench to watch Haley and Dylan and I stay with Chase. He shoots and shoots and shoots and shoots and misses and misses and misses and misses. It’s tough to watch. The kid is shooting with every ounce of energy  his little body can muster, muscling the ball skyward to barely kiss the rim, only to have the ball come rocketing earthward at his head.

Yet in spite of constant failure and  bodily harm he seems unfazed. To me this was a matter of sheer physics– a 35 pound boy just cannot generate enough force to muscle a 22 ounce basketball through a 10 foot high hoop.

For awhile  I stand by him, encourage him, feed him passes, offer him some shooting techniques and he continues to fail. Then I look at my phone. Check the time. Check Facebook. I think to myself “come on, kid give up” and Cindy gives me the “are you ready to go?” look. I tell Chase that he’s just too small for the big net and that maybe in a few months he’ll be strong enough  to…and he shoots me the– “shut up dad” look that he will certainly verbalize a few years from now.

I encourage Chase to give up by  offering him an alternative– that I’ll take out the little net at home so he can finally score. To which he barks “No!”

I grow tired of watching my son fail and move to the bench.  Haley and Dylanchase3 begin to whine. “I’m tired, I’m  thirsty, I’m hungry “. I pry Chase again. And again he tells me he’s not leaving. Finally, Cindy, Haley and Dylan begin to walk home and I agree to stay  with Chase for a few more minutes.

Then something as unexpected as adulthood happens– my son makes a basket. This little kid who had just failed for close to an hour is standing under the basket– arms raised in victory and sporting  a smile that reminds me of a younger version of myself. And with his hands in the clouds he says, “Dad, now we can go home.”

On this fine February afternoon I wasn’t looking to be humbled–and I guess we rarely are. I was looking to get a some exercise and beat my wife in Around-the-World so I could brag about it later at dinner. But my son, the stubborn little five year old who openly picks his nose and occasionally wets his bed just schooled me on the importance of perseverance.

Be well,

Jay

A Vulnerable Man

Dear Reader,

Last week a former student, Owen C., posted a nice message on the WoFo website. Owen congratulated me on the website and then he wrote something that hit a nerve, something I had to respond to…

“You’re not afraid of having emotion. You’re not afraid of sharing. You’re not afraid of being a person. Even at the cost of your male identity, adult identity, or whatever else.”– Owen C.

Though I’m humbled by Owen C.’s comments I feel the need to clarify a few things. In order to do so, we have to do some time-traveling.  So Dear Reader, pack up the Jansport, gas up the Honda Prelude and lets Electric Slide back to 1994.

I’m 14 years old, sitting in freshman English class pretending not to care. Because that’s what the cool kids do–not care. Cool kids spend their weekdays not caring and their weekends in the woods  drinking, fucking, and  fighting or at least that’s what I hear them talking  about on Monday.

My teacher, Ms. Mini Skirt is handing back our essays–an assignment that required us to write as a Puritan woman being falsely tried as a witch. I don’t  like high school much. And I’m not  trying to be cool Dear Reader but the only class I can tolerate is English class– partly because of the writing, partly because of the mini skirts.

It’s 1994 and I’m 14 and I’m thinking… if I was gay I’d probably be a writer. But I’m not gay. I like Ms. Mini Skirt’s crescent moon calves. I like girls. I hope to make out with a girl someday, maybe in the back seat of a Honda Prelude .  I’ll probably grow up and be a roofer or a welder or something that will callous my hands, offer me lung cancer and leave me with a permanent metallic tang.  Because that’s what meat-eating  heterosexual males seem to do– chose professions that assert their masculinity.

Ms. Mini Skirt clacks her heels about the classroom. The full moon eyes of sexed-up cool dudes watch her moves. She clacks by their desks and they salivate and release low growls like little hungry wolves. When Ms. Mini Skirt clacks about my desk the cool dude behind me, the middle linebacker on the freshman football team, is growling at my back. Ms. Mini Skirt floats over my desk and hands me my essay and smiles and tells me I have talent, that I write with emotion and that I should keep writing. Then she spins and clacks away and before I can smile middle linebacker whispers “fag” in my ear.

Now in 1994,  in my catholic high school, “fag” was by far the most commonly used insult amongst boys. The word wasn’t so much a decree of someone’s sexual preferences but more an announcement that a boy was weak. And in 1994 just like in 1894 (and we can safely assume in 2094) boys, men have a real problem with showing weakness.

It’s been 22 years since Ms. Mini Skirt told me I have talent. Its 2016  but it might as well be 1994  because every time I begin to write I hear her click clack  and I also hear the low guttural growling of teenage boys and every time I begin to write the middle linebacker whispers “fag” in my ear. Every time.

When I  finally brave up and face my demons  and write the first word something happens, with each passing word I write,  “fag”  fades, losing its power and bite and I feel strong and middle linebacker’s  voice becomes distant until its gone as if he’s being dragged away by  rival wolves  into the dark woods  where the cool dudes drink, fuck, and fight on the weekends.

Here’s what I’ve learned– it takes more effort and energy and pain to hold things in then to let them out. For a long time I foolishly thought showing emotion meant to be weak.

But here’s the truth– not writing, not facing the truth made me feel weak and cowardly. Now if I had my choice, my prose would wear Carhartt jackets and Timberlands. I’d write whiskey-soaked , rough-and -tumble stuff like Chuck Palahniuk ( Fight Club)  or Cormac McCarthy ( No Country for Old Men)  as a declaration of my masculinity. But I can’t write like those men. I’ve tried and failed.  I have desk drawers packed with  pages of me pretending to be someone else.

I have to write vulnerably in order to write truthfully. And embracing my vulnerabilities has given me greater courage to accept truth.

Please understand– openly discussing my vulnerabilities is not easy for me–it’s tough stuff, it’s uncomfortable and  goes against everything thing Clint Eastwood taught me about being a man. But since I’m fairly out of shape, I just figure embracing my vulnerabilities has got to be less exhausting than running from the truth.

Be well,

Jay

5 Life Lessons Bruce Springsteen Has Taught Me

Dear Reader,

While writing  “It’s a town full of losers…” it occurred to me that I had a lot more to say about Bruce Springsteen.

Aside from his musicality– the way the pianos and horns and guitars and drums collide, bruce3making music that can be heard yes, but also felt on a very visceral level– I love the cinematic quality of his lyrics.  His songs read like literature. They house conflicted characters and thematic scope that rival any Hemingway or Fitzgerald novel.

Of course, Bruce inspires me to dance (albeit not gracefully) yet his songs offer something deeper, something like a  prayer,  three minutes of moral reflection.  And in those reflective  moments  the Boss provides an unabashed, multifaceted and often rambunctious examination of life.

Like any great writer, Springsteen teaches his readers about themselves and the depths of their humanity. In fact some would argue he has taught us more “in a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.” ( I may tend to agree.) I’ve been an open-eared, wide-eyed pupil in Springsteen’s School of Rock for close to 25 years. In that time the leather-jacketed professor from New Jersey  has taught me 5 valuable life lessons…

Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world

-Nebraska-

Lesson#1- The world is a scary-ass place. Your local news shows will sucker punch you nightly  with many forms of human meanness. Too often people are reckless and cruel. And malice often crosses your path  without prejudice, explanation or warning.  Sometimes meanness just happens. I wish I had better news my friend  but earning your victim badge is the unfortunate price you pay for accepting your invitation into this earthly party.

I just want someone to hold on to/And a little of that human touch

-Human Touch –

Lesson #2- Poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island”. As tempting as it sounds to slip on some sandals, pack the boat and live like a Corona commercial we weren’t meant to exist in solitude, even if solitude is on a tropical island. We need companionship. We need physicality. We are meant to help each through this ordeal called living. And as scary as it sounds, in order to grow, we must embrace vulnerability and share the deepest parts of ourselves with others, not a coconut.

Take your best shot/let me see what you got/bring on your wrecking ball

-Wrecking Ball-

Lesson #3-People will judge. Don’t listen. Too often we  shudder to think what others may think of us. This sounds like high school musical problems but fear of judgment equally petrifies both teenagers and adults.  We make our choices, or fail to make them, for fear of being judged. If we live shackled to that fear we will never experience the freedom of our humanness. We must be defiant enough to prevent the world from bending us into the person the world wants us to be.

Well if I had one wish in this god forsaken world, kid/ It’d be that your mistakes will be your own/ That your sins will be your own

-Long Time Comin’-

Lesson#4- No matter the magnitude, please understand , you will leave a mark on this world.  Your decisions will affect someone. Sometimes immediately, sometimes those effects are not fully felt until many years later,  in ways we cannot  currently fathom. Knowing that our choices will leave a long wake of both influence and damage is just one of the burdens of living. So choose wisely my friend.

No I ain’t a boy , no I’m a man and I believe in the promise land.

-Promise Land-

Lesson #5- Damn it, you gotta dream. It frightens me to see so many adults  give up on dreams, become paralyzed by complacency and drown in an aboveground pool of boredom.The art of dreaming rekindles passions, fuels resiliency and gives us the courage to hope. No matter your age or place  you’ve got to look out  beyond the present and into the wondrous distance where imagination and possibility meet.

Encore??…

I know I promised you 5 lessons but “tonight we’ll be free and all the promises will be broken” and plus what would a Bruce  show be without an encore.

Ohhhh, Growin’ Up

-Growin’ Up-

Lesson #6-Life roars by at breakneck speed. I remember being 8 and fishing in a little aluminum boat on a golden summer afternoon with my grandfather. He’s dead now. And I’m 35 with 3 children and my parents are now grandparents. If we cling to the past we will never move forward. As hard as it seems, we have to let the past go, accept the present, and gaze hopefully into the future because there is nothing you can do– life rushes on.

I ain’t here on business baby/ I‘m only here for fun.

-Rosalita ( Come Out Tonight)-

Lesson#7- And this above all else: enjoy life  It’s the only one you get. Bruce’s music implores us to have fun. Not recklessly of course, but in ways that inspire others to do the same. Rosalita’s musical bravado is infectious, as if the song is daring us not to dance and sing along with Bruce. I know few songs so supercharged with sound, so packed with passion that make you glad to be alive… and according to the Boss, “that ain’t no sin”.

Be  well,

Jay