Category Archives: raising children

Fat!

Fat!

There are a lot of things you never want to expose your children to; radiation, the last episode of Lost, and naked people. I mean, come on, you only need to see a handful of naked people to realize, sheesh, the movie industry must use a lot of make up and prosthetics to make it look that good. Next on my list is run down carnivals in dying Midwestern towns. Every summer come July, the month that most resembles Hell in the Midwest, my children scratch and paw the windows of the mini van like, well, children in a mini van, every time we drive by “Galena Days”.

The first time my wife and I went to “Galena Days” we didn’t have any children and therefore felt freer to risk our lives riding the decrepit machines. The brightly colored rides played music that sounded like cats having sex and many of the people running this traveling circus appeared visibly high to me. More disturbingly, many of the people operating the rides appeared to be happy, way too happy, to be doing what they were doing. There is no way a person could smile as much as they did while operating the merry-go-round stone cold sober. No way.

“Galena Days” proved to be an eye opening, gut emptying experience. Growing up I ate my share of deep fried foods like fish sticks and corn dogs. But, I had no idea of the creative depths the Midwest was bringing to the culinary table. I had heard the jokes about how people around here would deep fry anything and eat it: road kill, turtles, and the like. Here, though, I was confronted with the ugly truth. Deep fried pickles, Oreos, Snickers Bars, cheese cake, and pancake batter were some of the morsels to be found. Deep fried cheese cake! My chest tightens at the thought. The size of the corn dogs would have made a horse blush. The combination of the heat, the oil, and the absent stares made for a gastro intestinally unsettling day. I knew then and there I would use all of my super human dad powers to avoid bringing my offspring to such an event.

Events like these are easy to avoid with the proper amount of parental bribery. Other parts of the culture that surrounds us are not events I want my kids to avoid but lifestyles, or more specifically, buffets. Buffets are like 70’s porn; wet, cheesy, and soft featuring people with horrible hairdos. Buffets are endemic here as are the appetites to match. Awhile ago walking through the grocery store my then four year old daughter saw an enormous man; not only was he tall but he was obese. Very obese. As we walked right by him she asked in an unmitigated four year old decibel level, “Why is that man so fat!”. My two year old boy in the cart seat repeats “fat!” with enthusiasm leaving no doubt, if there ever was any, as to who and what we were talking about. I smiled at the man and quickly turned the corner figuring I could outrun him if I needed to. He walked on graciously without commenting on the socialization, or lack thereof, of my young children.

I can’t protect my children from everything and really, I don’t want to. Growing up where we have chosen to raise them presents itself with certain difficulties, as does any area in which you choose to live. Some of these we can avoid and some of them create awkward, but teachable moments for us all. It is not in their best interest to put them on a portable Ferris wheel run by people who look like they don’t know where they are. But it is in their best interest, and in the interest of my personal safety, to be curious about the people around them in a way that is respectful. I am hoping to help them realize that it does make a difference to avoid certain heart stopping foods as much as it helps to lower your voice out of respect for others. Little by little they seem to understand, although July continues to necessitate the most creative bribes.

Well, somebody is calling for their father…

Steve

An Open Letter to All Politicians From a SAHD

Phone photos 09-10 062

Awhile ago my wife had the opportunity to introduce a Missouri senator at the Young Professionals group of which she was the chair. She wanted me to attend the event so I packed up our then two month old boy and went to meet her for the luncheon. As soon as I walked in I knew this would not be easy. The addition of a politician made the room charged with people who wanted to say something important and shake a lot of hands. As the senator and his wife were walking around the room she spotted the baby and quickly zeroed in on the chance to kiss it. I glanced awkwardly as I held the car seat. “Hi, glad to meet you. How old is the little one?” she asked. I quickly assessed she was asking about our baby although my wife is technically shorter than I am. “He’s two months” I replied hoping she would move on without touching him. I hated it when people wanted to touch my babies. Germs. “Well, I hope he grows up to be a conservative.” I threw up a little in my mouth at this point. The senator stood silently smiling the whole time. Maybe he had nothing to say, which would be odd for a senator, or maybe he was the Yin to my Yang and thought it was the baby who had the germs. Either way, he remained mysteriously absent from our conversation.

What do I wish he would have said to me? Since he said nothing a polite “Hi” would have been nice. Beyond that I can’t help but imagine that if I had I been the chair of the Young Professionals group the conversation would have been easier. He could have slapped me on the back and congratulated me on putting the stem on the apple and the wives could have conversed about how hard it is to get the baby fat off, or something like that. I don’t know what women talk about. Anyways, even as it was I would have been fine with him slapping my wife on the back and congratulating her on still being fertile. I’m a modern man. But, I am not going to discuss breast feeding with his wife. She’s old and that’s gross. I’ll leave that to the post modern men.

I appreciate that the stay at home dad may not appear to have a lot to bring to the table. But, if I had been the power hungry narcissist in the room I think I would have paid more attention to the people who are thinking outside the box. While my diaper changing skills are probably not important to his political career (at least I hope so), the fact remains that if you are talking to a stay at home dad you are talking a couple, a husband and a wife, who have chosen to live differently. While that may be initially uncomfortable it is worth pursuing. So, the next time you see a man with a baby, think twice. While you don’t stand a chance of converting me to the Conservative side, you will have saved yourself from being the object of an unknown bloggers rants. Take heed.

No, My Husband Stays at Home….

Imagine this: You and your husband crawl out of bed in the morning because you can both hear the baby is up. You brush your teeth and get ready for your day which begins with a work out at home since your workday doesn’t allow time for the gym. Your husband stays in his underwear and scuttles off the make a bottle for the baby. While you work out he has the baby in the highchair and the other children in various stages of getting dressed. You shower and get dressed for your 7.30 meeting while his hair is still matted to one side of his head. He is sitting on the floor with a cup of coffee playing a game of Candyland and trying to teach the baby to crawl. The notes for your meeting are running through your head and you can hear the sound of the beginning of a long days worth of texts and emails hitting your phone. As you leave out the door with a breakfast bar everyone who can walk scrambles to the door for a goodbye kiss and a tug at your skirt. Your husband shuffles everyone back in the house with his coffee in one hand and the baby in another and waves goodbye through the window. This isn’t his day off or a brief spate of unemployment. This is everyday because you’re the one that works.

Whether this scenario works for you as a woman probably depends upon a couple of things. The first thing is the quality of relationship you have with your husband. I’m going to guess that it is important to you that your husband is working towards something. And not just anything, but something the two of you mutually value like, the care of your children, the laundry, the house cleaning, and (let’s throw this in for kicks) all of the cooking. If he is the one to stay home, then it is vital to you that he works towards the good of the family. He should, day to day, contribute to the overall health and success of what the two of you have created.

enhanced photo 011

The second part of this picture are your own personal motivations outside of the home. Do you want to work? Really? Are you sure? You, like my wife, are probably very good at what you do and that is why as a family you even have the choice to live on one salary. Being good at what you do, there should be a good deal of satisfaction and pride in your work. But, you won’t be home as much. You’re going to miss your kids. And socially, as a mother, people will wonder why you’re the one to work. Don’t you want to see your kids?

Whether it is the husband or wife who works both people need to feel the other one is working towards the common goal. That is fundamental to any marriage and every family whether one person works or both work. It is the glue that keeps the bond of trust together. I have known other couples that tried to have the father stay home. Some of them didn’t work and it didn’t work for this reason. If you as the working mother walk in from a long day at the office and the house is a mess, the laundry is not done, and MacDonald’s is on the dinner table I’m going to guess that happy is not going to be your first emotion.

If you saw some of the meals I cook my wife you would understand our arrangement. I want to impress her. I want her to walk into a house that is clean and peaceful. I want our weekends to be free of errands to run and chores to complete. I want to have taken care of all the shopping, doctors appointments, and school needs. I want her to be able to brag about me so that she can feel proud of who she married in front of her friends. I want to work as hard as she does at creating our life together because, at the heart of it, I’m so grateful to be the one who is home.

So, what do you think?

I Spy With My Little Eye…

cropped-cropped-cropped-0930101641a.jpg

The other day I was out of the house with my three children. We were playing “I Spy”, the rules of which are a little fuzzy to my three year old, when I spotted a man with a stroller. Beck said “I see something white in the sky” and I guessed, for the fourth time in a row, “cloud” and again won the game. My attention once again my own I watched this guy walk down the street going seemingly no where in a hurry. He was just out for a walk. And he wasn’t pushing a toddler stroller, it was an honest to goodness infant stroller. A real baby. I immediately wondered what was wrong with this guy. What was this man doing in the middle of the week in the middle of the day walking a baby? Did he have a fight with his wife and he walked out? Was he lost? It just wasn’t right.

I would have to be unconscious in order to not see the unbelievable irony. I was a man in the middle of the day in the middle of the week out with my three young children, one of which was a baby. The only real difference was that he was walking and I was in a mini van, and in the battle for who looked less domesticated (an important male competition), I lost that battle.

I was shopping in one the humungous grocery stores the other day. Normally, I am the only male with children in the store. In the middle of the day, senior citizens rule these shopping centers. They are everywhere you go. Next comes women with children and then the rest of the world–people who if they are not single are at least enviably alone. I had never, until this day, seen a father shopping with his children at 11am on a Thursday. On this day, not only did I see such a sight, but I saw two fathers and they were each out with there three children. Yes, three. Just like me. I was shocked. After getting over the peculiarity of the day I found myself actually sizing these guys up; could these men really keep these kids in line without totally losing it? Surely these men were so domestically whipped by their wives that she was probably at home in a Mumu waiting for him to bring back the Bonbons. I was actually suspicious of the abilities of both of these men, who by all observable criterion were doing a fine job, to take care of their children.

Even I, a stay at home dad for ten years, are somewhat suspicious of stay at home dads. It’s just not traditionally manly. Or let’s just drop the traditionally part; It’s just not manly. Men can be husbands and fathers in our culture and remain the attractive sex symbols all men want to be. But when they are the primary care giver? Ya, sexy isn’t what comes to my mind either.

And yet…my marriage seems to work as do the marriages of thousands, well maybe hundreds, of stay at home dads. We have chosen a different way to live from the majority of society and there are real consequences to that decision. Consequences that make their way even into my own duplicitous mind. I wasn’t raised this way either. I have departed, for some very good reasons, from the culture in which I was raised.

Now it’s my turn: I spy something that doesn’t quite fit in, that is not necessarily wrong but isn’t completely right either, and is a total conversation stopper at dinner parties. Can you guess what it is

Home

I like to be cool. That’s normal, right? No one likes to be on the outside of normal looking in unless you can make the outside look really cool to everyone else like The Fonze or vampires. Being a stay at home father isn’t the strange and uncommon thing it used to be. Most people have heard of men that are the primary care givers to their children and a few socially progressive people may even boast to be best friends with a man who has chosen to do such a thing. In cities like New York or Chicago or San Francisco it may even be cool to be a stay at home father because in the major cultural centers of our country it is cool to be uncool. But in Kansas, small town Kansas, it’s not so cool. Ya, I’m not that cool here.

We live in the largest mining town in southeast Kansas. Driving in from the West the first thing you will notice is the sign on the side of the highway proclaiming this proud distinction. The sign on the East side of town is mysteriously absent but since there are only two mining towns in southeast Kansas maybe we blushed at over emphasizing our uniqueness. No sign in either town will tell you that the mines have been closed for decades. This, I suppose, is an attempt to hold on to the title of “mining” town because if we gave up that title then all we would have is town and that’s not very exciting. If the main street slowly sinks into the abandoned mines like some say it is then we may have to lose the title of town and simply leave “mining” on the sign. That would be awkward.

The town takes its name, Galena, from the mineral that was once blown out of the ground by men who in the old photos look like they are happy, although everything you know about their lives tells you they shouldn’t be. They are young and old, smiling, and covered with what we now know to be the carcinogenic dust of lead and zinc, also products to come out of the local mines. The miner’s caps on their heads are lit by a small oil lamp hanging out if front of their face like the light of an angler fish. All of these men are long gone and the town is a testament to their absence. Driving through town, the gravestones in the cemeteries are all that is left of the heart and soul of this place. As if pitched around by waves in slow motion, the headstones lean every which way slowly sinking into the graves that they mark. Galena itself is a gravestone. It marks the heyday of the Old West when our town had a five star hotel, an opera house, and brothels. Jesse James robbed a bank nearby and is reputed to have hid out in the hills surrounding Galena. Now, the town is slowly sinking into the ground that created it and is a symbol of the Midwest as it was a hundred or more years ago.

Today our claim to fame is that the writer of the movie “Cars” is reputed to have traveled route 66 and found his inspiration for the movie from our local area. The character of “Mater”, the old tow truck that befriends the lead character in the movie, was discovered in Galena. The old truck has since been seen for the marketing opportunity that he was at the time the movie was popular. Unfortunately, the owner of “Mater” discovered that fact about ten years too late. He now has eyes and a mouth painted on him but he remains stuck on an abandoned section of route 66. Apparently the movie did nothing to highlight his plight.

Galena is filled with the typical run down and empty store fronts of towns whose glory day was four generations ago. Within the towns are old houses, mansions in their day, that still reveal the wealth that was created by the mines. Huge wrap around porches with sun rooms decorated with ornate wood work adorn these deteriorating houses. Around them are the miners cottages that now house some of the poorest people in America. A friend of mine who delivers mail in the area says that many of the homes do not have water or electricity for part of the year. It can be a dire place, but hey, “Mater” lives here, so not all is lost.

When my wife and I decided to move here over ten years ago we were struck by the sadness of the place as much as we were by the beauty. Galena is on the westernmost tip of the Ozark mountains. Oak and dogwood trees, deer and turkey, and rivers and lakes fill the landscape. The air is crisp and clean in the spring time with beautiful blue sky and amazing sunsets. Out here you can be alone if you want to be surrounded by the land that you own or you can live in town and enjoy the company of friendly neighbors. Soon after we moved here in 2002 we attended our church Spring Festival to find a potluck spread of homemade food like we had never seen before: fresh pies, steaming casseroles, deer and turkey freshly killed and turned into jerky, fish out of the local rivers breaded and deep fried. The older folks in the group were sitting in the shade slowly turning the handle on the homemade ice cream makers. A 1920’2 era tractor entertained children and adults alike with a hay ride. A horse shoe tournament was the main sporting event of the day. We felt like we had stumbled onto a movie set.

For all of the Midwest’s sadness and beauty, this is where we have chosen to raise our children and make a home. This is where we have made friends, built our home, and invested our lives in the people around us. And it is this context that I have chosen, as a man in the prime of my life, to stay home, become uncool, and raise my young children.