July 24, 2014
by Meredith Bland
3 Comments

Guest Post: 15 Things I’ve Learned From Becoming a Stay-At-Home Dad

Here is the first of two awesome guest posts on Pile of babies while I am away at/recovering from Blogher 2014. This one is from freelance writer and stay-at-home dad of twins, Matt Vasko.

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15 Things I’ve Learned From Becoming a Stay-At-Home Dad

By Matt Vasko

(image via pixabay)

(image via pixabay)

When my now 3-year-old twins were born, my wife and I made the decision that she would take a break from her career for a few years to stay at home with them. Last year, she was offered an exciting opportunity to return to her pre-kids career, and we decided to trade places. Before becoming a Stay-At-Home-Dad I was what most would call an Engaged Father. I shared responsibilities at bath time and bedtime, changed diapers when the kids were still in them (potty training has been one of my recent projects), and helped with chores. Still, being an Entrenched Father for several months has been illuminating. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

People can be pretty great. I admit it, I was apprehensive about telling people that I was becoming a Stay-At-Home Dad. I anticipated everything from people telling me that it would be a mistake to take a break from my career to blatant digs at my masculinity. To the contrary, I was overwhelmed by all of the positive reactions that I received. Stay-At-Home Moms said, “You’re doing a really great thing… this will be a special time for you and your kids.” Moms who did not take time away from work after having their kids said, “I sometimes wish that I would have done that.” Dads who have not had a similar opportunity said, “Dude, you suck! I wish I could do that.” Friends, family and complete strangers have continued to be wonderfully supportive.

It is both harder and easier than one might imagine. Three-year-olds have inexhaustible energy, and it’s exhausting. Every muscle in my body hurt for the first two weeks and I lost seven pounds that haven’t found their way back. Keeping up with them while taking care of meals, dishes, laundry and housekeeping all at the same time is like trying to juggle chainsaws while taking care of meals, dishes, laundry and housekeeping. On the other hand, people told me that there would be no time for myself. Not true. It comes in milliseconds peppered throughout the day, but it is enough to get by. Especially if one pretends that blinking is a very short nap.

Dishes suck. There is no greater exercise in futility than doing dishes. You can clean them 10 times a day, turn around, and there are more to do. Few things make me sigh so deeply. If I were Sisyphus my boulder would be made of grimy pots and greasy frying pans. If Zeus really wanted to punish Sisyphus, he should have replaced the boulder with an eternal sink full of dirty dishes. There is no upside to this.

Poop happens… and pee-pee and vomit and boogers. I realized that I was getting into the groove as a Stay-At-Home-Dad when one of my kids could hand me a booger and I no longer thought, “Eeeeeeew.” Strange at is seems, this is probably the item that has made me understand my Mom better than any other. When I had the stomach flu as a kid, I was baffled by how she could so calmly reach for a bucket and hold it under my head as I heaved up my rotten guts. Little did I know that she’d seen it all a thousand times before I could even remember.

(image via freeimages)

(image via freeimages)

Zen is achievable. I now realize that when I started this gig I was the classic definition of a hot mess. I wasn’t used to being alone with the twins for more than a couple of hours at a time and had the startling realization that I had never taken both of them out anywhere by myself. I was in a near-constant state of panic. At home, my eyes darted about wildly, afraid to take my eyes off of either of them for more than a moment at a time, certain that I would end up needing to call my wife and explain why we were at the emergency room. In public, I feared that if they got more than two feet away from me they would most certainly be abducted, escape, or escape and then be abducted. I second guessed my every decision, beat myself up about every perceived mistake, and dreamed of the rest I would get following my inevitable nervous breakdown. Each day that has passed without catastrophe has taught me to trust both my abilities and my children’s innate survival instincts. A sense of hysteria has given way to a sense of being the calm in the storm, self doubt has transformed into consistent growth, and destructive criticism has changed to constructive criticism.

Schedules matter. I thought I would be a lot easier going than my wife. Lunch at noon? Naptime at 2? Nah, we’ll get to it when we get to it. Wrong. I soon discovered that preschoolers need a schedule like planes need fuel… without it they crash and burn. Hard. And my twins did. I used to think that my wife was micromanaging their daily routine – in fact she was a preschooler mood control mastermind. Returning them to their schedule has turned Mr. and Ms. Hyde back into pre-doctoral students.

They’re tough customers. Before stepping into this role I worked in customer service. Customers could be rude, crude and demanding, but at least they knew what they wanted. There have actually been moments during a child’s tantrum in which I have found myself begging, “Please dear god just tell me what you want so that I can make this stop!” I’m still working on this one. So far, the best thing I’ve come up with is embarrassingly frequent use of the phrase “use your words” and heavy sighs.

Sally Field was right. There is no 40-hour work week, no 10-minute breaks, no lunch periods, no sick days, no vacation time, no bathroom breaks without someone asking “What are you doing, Daddy?,” and the Department of Labor could care less. We need a union.

We get it. I don’t think that my wife and I have ever been able to empathize with each other as much as we do now. When she gets home from work and the house is in shambles, and I am standing in the middle of the living room looking catatonic, she doesn’t need to ask, “What happened to you?” She simply distracts the kids while I search for my sanity. Similarly, when she calls to tell me that she’s going to be an hour late leaving work because – you know – work has a way of sucking like that, I don’t lament the delay in the reinforcements. I soldier on, because I know she’d move heaven and earth to be home if she could. We know, because each of us has been there.

Attitude is everything. They say that attitude is everything. This could not be truer for young ones. I have been startled at times by the impact that my attitude has on my kids. As a result, I have become hyper-aware of my state of mind, because when I’m cranky they get cranky. The upshot: I’ve learned to harness this power for good instead of evil. When I really want them to get excited about something I present it as the-most-exciting-thing-EVER!!! It works best for things like trying to get them motivated to go outside, but even this technique fails to get them enthused about cleaning up their toys.

They’re honest… painfully honest. If I make something for dinner once and they don’t like it, they complain. If I make it a second time, they burst into tears when I set it in front of them. That’s honesty. And it stings. On the other hand, when I get all dolled up for a date night with my wife, walk downstairs, and my daughter says, “Wow, Daddy, you‘re handsome!” I feel like a shiny new penny.

It’s all about perspective. For me, getting this time with my kids has been a gift. I don’t feel entitled to this opportunity to be at home with them, I feel grateful. And it is this perspective that helps me keep a positive mindset when one child is standing in the middle of the living room floor in a puddle of their own pee, the other has just played Picasso on the dining room wall, the phone is ringing, there’s someone at the door, and dinner is boiling over on the stove.

(image via photopin)

(image via photopin)

Little things matter. The longer I do this the more I learn to take pleasure in the small, quiet moments. Yes, birthday parties and making the holidays special matter, but I anticipate that the things that I will hold most dear when I look back on this time with my kids are those perfect moments when we are reading a book, snuggling on the couch, or searching for just the right wildflower to give to Mommy when she gets home from work.

You’ll never be perfect, but your kids won’t care. I set a pretty high bar for myself in the beginning. I wanted to be the “perfect parent,” whatever the heck that is. As it turns out, they just want your time and attention. Give them that and you’re golden.

There is honor in serving one’s family. To be honest, I thought that becoming a Stay-At-Home-Dad would be a blow to my ego. I left a job managing two departments, a 30 person staff, and a $1.3 mil budget – that felt important. How could dishes and diapers possibly compare? I’ve discovered that all of the seemingly mundane tasks that make up my new job do add up to something. They create a caring, nurturing environment for the three most important people in my life. That matters more.

Matt Vasko recently left a perfectly fine job for the exhausting bliss of Stay-At-Home-Parenthood. Over the years, he has worked in customer service, sales, management, and misspent his youth as an actor and comedian. He is an occasional freelance writer and lives with his family in Los Angeles, California. You can read his brand-spankin’ new blog Super Eclectica, follow him on Twitter at @Vaskoco, and e-mail him at [email protected] 

July 22, 2014
by Meredith Bland
5 Comments

Heading to Blogher 2014!

BLOGHER 14I’m off to Blogher 2014 tomorrow, bitches and bastards! Woo hoo!!!!!

Last year I went all by myself. I was nervous, sticky, and ate a lot of room service while watching Law & Order reruns. This year, however, my twin sister is going with me, so the good times are going to roll! We are going to get to celebrate our birthday together for the first time in many years,and she is going to be able to be my shelter in the storm when the many, many people bring on my first panic attack. It’s gonna be awesome!

This year there are a bunch of bloggers I am looking forward to meeting that I know on this series of tubes known as the interweb but have never met in person. The internet is weird that way, huh? So that’s something to look forward to,

There is an extra element of terror this year though, as I have been one of the bloggers picked from among Blogher’s Voices of the Year to read one of my blog posts in front of a hotel ballroom full of people. I am so incredibly psyched and honored, but also incredibly nauseous.

ALSO, I get to go to Netflix’s headquarters for a tour along with some of their other Stream Team bloggers! And, in addition to some Netflix honchos, we are going to meet Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is The New Black.

Oh. My. God.

So this is going to be a big conference for me, and I can barely nap enough to deal with all of the stress. So keep your fingers crossed for me that I don’t accidentally spit food on anyone while talking, or say anything unforgivably stupid. Forgivably stupid I expect and can deal with.

There will be some awesome guest posts on Thursday and the following Tuesday, and then I’ll be back with a post-Blogher wrap up toward the end of next week.

Eep, y’all.

July 15, 2014
by Meredith Bland
6 Comments

Football versus Futbol – 4 things I learned by watching the World Cup

During the past few weeks, I — like millions of other Americans — became enamored with the world of futbol (pronounced like football, only after you’ve been kicked in the stomach.) As a devoted football fan, I discovered some interesting contrasts between the game I love and the game I was temporarily flirting with.

1. In football, they wear face masks…sometimes fairly elaborate, cage-like masks like the Raider’s Justin Tuck at the bottom. Unfortunately, those types of face masks will not be allowed next season. This makes me very sad, because there so many more nightmares I had yet to dream.

Now futbol, however, has no face masks. And guess which sport’s players get bitten? With mouths? By other grown men?

POINT: Face cage.

Deadspin f vs f 1

Deadspin Fvs F 2

2. When futbol players pull up their jerseys to celebrate, it looks like this:

deadspin fvsv 3
When football players pull up their jerseys to celebrate, it looks like this:
mebane

POINT: The Mebane belly roll. I like some jelly in my NFL belly. Get it, big man.

3. Celebrations. In football, you aren’t allowed to taunt defenders after a touchdown; this includes standing over them for too long, using the football as a prop, or doing a military salute. Officials also don’t enjoy choreographed dances, which I think we can all agree is absolute madness, because who doesn’t want to see a bunch of football players doing a choreographed dance? Crazy people, that’s who.

In futbol, on the other hand, the rule book states that after scoring a goal players may neither remove their shorts nor incite a riot. And that’s about it. Shorts. And riots.

South Africa Soccer WCup England US

deadspin fvsf 5

 

POINT: Football. The game where the players are dignified enough not to have be asked to keep their pants on.

4. When their team is getting the stuffing beat out of it, futbol fans have big reactions. Like this gentleman, for example, who forgot to bring snacks to the game.

deadspin fvsf 6

Football fans however, such as this caring Manning brother watching his brother’s team getting destroyed during the Super Bowl, tend to spiral downward into despair. This kind of despair robs us of our ability to move our faces.

deadspin fvsf 7

POINT: Football’s stoney sadness. This is the correct reaction to having your dreams die.

CONCLUSION: In terms of biteyness, anguish, and forced control over joy, football still reigns supreme. Now oh my god, can it please be September already?

July 11, 2014
by Meredith Bland
0 comments

Netflix for kids: School’s out for summer, but Netflix is in.

As I said in Tuesday’s post, I am not anti-screen time. In fact, I am aaaaaaaaall for it. Sometimes kids need sometime to zone out and relax their little minds, and sometimes Mommy needs to take a nap. And eat all the cookies.

I don’t even worry too much about whether or not the program is educational, but it sure helps me feel slightly less guilty when I know that they think they are getting away with watching TV but they are actually learning about the solar system.

HA! Take THAT, kids!

This month’s Netflix Stream Team theme was “School’s In For Summer,” and gave links to a few educational yet fun programming for kids. The gauntlet has been thrown. Let’s get stupid, kids.

Here were their choices for little kids like mine:

1. The Great Mouse Detective

2. Busytown Mysteries

3. LeapFrog: Math Adventures to the Moon

4. Turtle: The Incredible Journey

5. The Magic School Bus

As usual, I let the kids pick what they wanted to watch. Their first choice?

Numbers! In space! (image via leapfrog.com)

Numbers! In space! (image via leapfrog.com)

1. Leapfrog: Math Adventures to the Moon

That’s right. I am raising some straight up nerds, y’all.

And my little nerds LOVE the Leapfrog shows. I’m not sure why, but I am sure am grateful. When one of the little frog-beings said, “Math is fantastic!” I closed my eyes and thought, “Yes…say that again…make them think math is a force for good instead of the hideous evil I know it to be.” They are going to need all the help they can get in learning to enjoy math, because if you put enough numbers in front of me, I black out. So let’s keep adding and subtracting planets.

Their second choice?

(image via imdb.com)

(image via imdb.com)

2. The Great Mouse Detective

I am not going to kid you — I am not sure how this one is educational. Maybe because it helps them think creatively about how to solve problems and also gives them nightmares about bats who have sharp teeth and a peg leg? That must be it.

And, because we couldn’t get enough and Mommy was super duper tired that week, we got to watch another one. They chose:

 

And so it begins... (image via magicschoolbuswiki.com)

And so it begins… (image via magicschoolbuswiki.com)

3. The Magic School Bus

The Magic School Bus, as I have learned from Wikipedia, was a big hit during the 1990s when I was a teenager and heavily into awkwardness and analyzing the shape of my nose. So I missed out on this one. But the kids and I really enjoyed the episode we watched on the digestive system.

See, the magic School Bus shrinks and gets swallowed by a child named Arnold, and they go forth to discuss all of the part of his digestive system. This episode had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what they were going to do when they got to Arnold’s anus. Well, they tease you by getting all the way down to the lower intestine, where the kids get increasingly anxious and converned about the smell. Here is how the Magic School Bus Wiki describes the rest of that scene:

When Ms. Frizzle states that the trip is not over yet, Ralphie becomes quite frustrated, reciting all the organs of the digestive system consecutively and asking what’s more to it. Ms. Frizzle answers that they just need to “join the rest of the waste products and finish the trip.” With the shocked class refusing to exit through Arnold’s anus as feces and end up in the toilet, they plan to venture out of him by going back.

Booooooooo. So Arnold burps them up instead. But, you know, my kids learned about stomach acid and stuff, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss for them, although it was a deeply painful loss for me.

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So tell the kids to stop fighting over whose turn it is to kick the other one in the head. Go put on some Netflix, grab a comfy place to sit, and relax while the kids learn something. Or don’t. Let’s not worry too much about that. Just enjoy the silence.

Hurray, Summer!

 

July 8, 2014
by Meredith Bland
10 Comments

Screen time: I’ve decided not to stress about it.

via freeimages.com

via freeimages.com

If you want to get a group of parents squirming uncomfortably, apologizing for their choices, or climbing to the top of Mount Pious and waving their flags for all to see, bring up screen time for kids.

I have had dozens upon dozens of conversations with other parents about TVs/iPads/iPhones that include sentences like, “Well, I mean, I only let him watch for half an hour on the weekends.That’s not bad, right?” Or, “I let them watch for three hours straight the other day. I just needed a break. I know, it’s terrible.”

Let me give you the real shit right here: my kids get a ton of screen time. A TON. They’re on the iPad before school. They’re on the iPad after school. And sometimes they follow that up with video games after dinner. They have spent entire days in front of one screen or another. ENTIRE. DAYS.

Now, do I beat myself up about that? Yes. A little bit. It’s hard not to in the current parenting culture, where we are expected to martyr ourselves in both childbirth and parenting in order to prove our worth. We seem to think that unless we are struggling, we are not giving our children our best. It’s hard not to let that wiggle its way in to your head.

However, I am much more forgiving of myself than most people I know, and it breaks my heart when I hear other parents (most of the time, other moms) give themselves a hard time over letting their kids watch a few hours of TV.

No, screens should not be substitutes for parenting; ideally, your kid isn’t in front of a screen every waking minute of every day. As with most things in life and in parenting, it’s about balance. Sometimes you eat broccoli, and sometimes you eat Oreo ice cream sandwiches. Sometimes you do homework, sometimes you go out to play. Sometimes you watch TV, sometimes you…I don’t know…make puppets out of recycling and put on a show at the community p-patch. Or something.

Some days my kids gets tons of screen time, other days they get none at all. And it all seems to work out for us. It’d be one thing if I asked my kids what five plus five was, and they said “Pokemon.” But they don’t. So it’s cool. Besides, there are tons of great educational programs and websites out there. There is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water; I mean, sometimes the baby poops in the tub, but other times it teaches your kid about planets and what the word “camouflage” means.

BALANCE!

So when my kids and I have conversations like the following, I don’t worry.

KIDS: “Mom, what is evolution?”

ME: “Well, evolution is how living things change and adapt over time.”

KIDS: “So it’s like an upgrade in a video game?”

ME: “You know what? Yes. It is exactly like that.”

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