Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sandwich Generation

Hi there; it's been a while since we met. Almost a year. It wasn't my intention to be absent that long, but sometimes you can't always get what you want. Why was I absent for so long? Various reasons; a few of which I would like to share with you.

For over a year now I haven't been feeling too good. Oh, don't worry, physically I'm OK (besides the obligatory lower back pain), but mentally I wasn't in the right place. I was tired. Tired of it all. Being a father, being a husband, being a man. I had lost my sense of purpose. It took me some time and some harsh conversations with J. to realize I was depressed. Talking to a therapist didn't seem to help me. I went back to my family doctor and had a long chat with her. She pointed out that more and more men of my generation are having issues like this. We start having children at a later age, resulting in us being squeezed between the care for our children and the care for our parents, who are starting to need help as well. A Sandwich Generation. Doesn't sound as cool as Gen X or Gen Y and for sure it isn't. I haven't heard of a band that stands to the Sandwich Generation as Nirvana stands to Gen X and I bet if there was they wouldn't be as cool.

During our conversation my doctor suggested I might try some medication. Reluctantly I took her advice and started taking these. For me this was a big issue. I've always hated pathologizing the slightest issue. I've always felt that our society doesn't want to accept people who are outside the norm; who don't behave according to a therapists' checklist. I was skeptical, but decided to try it. I've been on medication now for over 6 months. I feel better. I'm not depressed anymore. All's well that ends well you might say. Not really. This is not the end of it, you see. It took me a long time to realize that I was depressed. During that depression I wasn't the best husband and father that I could have been. I had lost my sense of purpose. I neglected my duties. My duty as a husband to provide comfort, to provide support, to love my partner, to stand by her side. During my depression I had let J. down, although I had promised all the above when I married her and had vowed to take care of her. Luckily for me, J. did what she needed to do and pointed me in the right direction. It wasn't easy. I was stubborn; I didn't realize I was depressed, I didn't realize how far down the hole I was. Reluctantly I took the first step. The first step of many. Now I'm working hard at regaining my place as a husband and a father. It's not easy, but together with a therapist and some medication I'm making headway. I look towards the future and see a loving family. The pressure of being part of the Sandwich Generation is still there, but I feel I'm learning how to cope with it.

Talking to colleagues and friends, I've noticed that a lot of men of my generation are dealing with these issues. Some cope better than others, but during conversations I notice that they too are having a difficult time. There is still too much of a taboo for men to seek help. Don't forget that suicide is the number one cause of death for men between 25 and 34 years old, living in Flanders!! Not cancer or heart disease or traffic accidents... no...suicide!!

I was lucky. My beautiful wife loves me like no other and she pushed  and shoved me in the right direction. It wasn't pretty or easy, but she succeeded. I'm on my way. I'm content and happy with what life has given me. I love my wife, I love my children and I love myself.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Getaway Car

"Drive, drive, drive!!!" she hissed, while looking back with fear in her eyes. I floored the gas pedal and with screeching tyres I drove off the parking lot. I checked the rear-view mirror... "I think we made it.. " I mumbled.

Seriously... You don't mess with nap time. Oh, really? You thought J. and I had robbed a gas station, fleeing in the sunset, Bonnie and Clyde style? Sorry to disappoint you.. it is a parenting blog after all, not America's Most Wanted.

What would make a perfectly sane couple loose their shit and drive off in the sunset? OK, it was 2pm, so not really sunset, but you get the point. Nap time.. really.. NAP .... TIME ! You don't mess with it.

OK, so what happened?

J. and I were trying to make our little city garden look nice for spring and summer. After much discussion we decided to get one of those garden storage boxes to keep our recycling sorted. Recycling is difficult here. Seperate your paper from your plastics, seperate those from your green waste, keep the batteries in a seperate box, keep your colored glass seperate from your white, transparant glass, find a spot for those broken light bulbs, find a spot for the broken electronics, put your metal waste somewhere else... you see, it can be quite challenging to keep this all organised. Anyway, we decided on this garden storage box. We were going to go and get that box and clean up our yard. But then we looked at the clock .... 1pm.. NAP TIME ! What to do? Would we go out and get that box; risk skipping nap time, resulting in a 2.5 year old kid who at 3 or 4 pm would be too tired to make pleasant conversation? (not making "pleasant conversation" means screaming, crying, tempertantrums, etc... just being in a destructive mood would sum it up - have you seen Poltergeist?); or would we skip getting that box, do nap time and get the garden sorted out on a different day. Losing all sanity we decided on option number 1.

Off we went. 2 kids in the back, 2 parents in the front. Arriving 15 minutes later at the local DIY store, we unloaded our offspring. J. put Little Flower in her sling and I put our Little Man in the shopping trolley. We had our eyes on the clock. Would we get away with it? The short answer to that is .. no. We were in the store for 5 minutes, looking at garden boxes, when Little Man noticed a picture of a dolphin on a swimming pool filter box. "Fishie !! Fishie !! I want the Fishie !!!" ... "Little Man, we have fishies at home, just give mama and papa a few minutes and we'll go home and look at the fishies" ... "FISHIES!!! I WANT FISHIES!!!" People started staring at us. You know the look. It's the same look people would give if I had pulled down my pants and had started peeing in the aisles. "OK, time to go." J. said. We quickly paid for that waflle iron that seemed interesting..; (future birthday parties in mind) and ran to the car. I strapped in the kids and started the engine. It took about a minute to arrive at the big avenue. I had to make a left to go home. J. looked back at the kids and then looked at me "They're both asleep." I looked at her unbelieving. "You're kidding" ... "No, they're asleep... Drive, drive, drive !!" I floored it and made a right hand turn. Yes.. a RIGHT hand turn. "Why?" would you ask... You see .. Parents think on a different plane, a different level of consciousness if you will. Going home would mean that in 15 minutes I had to try and take 2 kids out of the car without waking them up. I wasn't going to take that risk. Doing that would have meant that we wouldn't have our garden box AND we would have 2 kids that had missed their nap time.

So I drove. I drove south. I drove past Brussels. I drove around Brussels. I drove south for an hour and a half, then I drove back north for the same amount of time, playing gentle tunes on the radio and talking in hushed voices... we had no final destination. Our only goal was for our kids to get that nap time and for us to keep our sanity.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The disgusting things we do as parents...

Being a parent means sacrifice...

So if you're thinking of becoming one... don't read what follows... or read it and be warned of the sacrifice required....

One of the main things we surrender is our hygienic standard... so sit back and relax, read in amazement how we try to survive.. oh, and don't mind those sticky things on the floor.. they're just crusted boogers..

1. Not showering for several days. There, I've said it.. There were days when the most I could hope for was a wipe down with a baby wipe.

2. Wearing dirty clothes. I've been peed on, pooped on, spit on, vomitted on.... Sometimes I don't have time to change. My tip: wear clothes with busy patterns... they sort of hide the stains...

3. Bathing with my kids. Once Little Man got a bit more independent, I evolved from n°1 to actually taking a shower or a bath... but with my kid... Now I know for some people I might have already crossed a line when I admit to sharing a bath or a shower with my toddler, but trust me... it becomes worse... I've sat in a bath tub with Little Man, while being fully aware that he just peed in the water. I was just too tired to bother with running a new bath. I'm just a bit scared when he starts farting...

4. Peeing in the sink. Due to the lay-out of our house and the presence of a dog, I don't like leaving our toddler and the baby unattended for even short periods of time. I have resorted several times to peeing in the kitchen sink. Oooh, don't worry, I did remove the dirty dishes first.

5. Going to the bathroom with the door open. During parenthood I evolved, I learned, I got more experienced and the kids got older. I don't pee in the sink anymore, but I use the bathroom with the door open...

6. Coffee and milk. It's morning time. J. and I fed the kids, cleaned them up, changed their diapers and we finally can sit down for 2 seconds with, albeit lukewarm, coffee. Then we realise we forgot to put milk in our coffee and we don't feel like getting up again. Don't worry, what's good for the baby should be good for the parents too, right? Some boob-juice in the cup of black gold doesn't taste that bad and at least we didn't have to get up.

7. Biting food in to smaller pieces. I'm at the grocery store and Little Man wants a grape. I'll bite a chewable piece off, before giving it to him. Then he'll chew it a little bit and decide that he doesn't really like it that much. Be prepared to catch that chewed piece of food in your hands.

8. Sleeping in a wet bed. A leaky diaper in our bed at 2am? I'm not changing the sheets at 2am! Change the diaper, throw a towel over the wet spot and get back to catching some Z's..

9. Sucking snot. I've written about this before. Beats wiping off snot with your sleeve.

10. Dirty couch. The amount of food remnants in all the nooks and crannies of the couch might surprise you. I know that they are there, I'm just too tired to care or to clean them up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

2 languages , double the swear words

We raise our kids in 2 languages.. or at least we try I guess.. If we end up with two kids who can only grunt out indistinguishable noises when they go to college, then we'll know we've failed..

My native language is Dutch and J.'s is English. While we were pregnant with Little Man, we did lots of research into raising a kid in 2 languages. Would it screw with his head? Would his language development be stunted? We had no idea....

J. and I speak English at home to each other. I've always worked in an English language environment as well, so English is sort of our 'family language'. Little Man will only be exposed to Dutch in large quantities when he starts going to school in September.

So apparently (according to the experts) it is imperative that we both continued speaking in our native tongues to Little Man. I read his bedtime stories in Dutch and J. reads them in English. Yes, 2 languages and you have to double your budget for books... "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and 'Rupsje NooitGenoeg".. every book in 2 languages... If you think you get fed up reading "Goodnight Moon".. try reading it in 2 languages...

Little Man started talking pretty early.. Just in English though. On a rare occasion he would say something in Dutch to me. I was getting worried. Did I speak enough Dutch to him? Would he be behind with his language development by the time he was going to school? He understood what I said to him, but he never conversed in the same way he did in English. Although J. was worried in the beginning that Little Man would not speak any English, I was now starting to get worried he would not speak any Dutch.

A few weeks ago I was comforted by a new development. Little Man started comparing his vocabulary. "mama says hippopotamus... papa says nijlpaard", "mama says tomato, papa says tomaat".. He started comparing more and more words... He was putting his vocabulary in the right boxes in his head... But still I was worried... And then.., a few days ago, I was assured that everything would be OK....

Last week, Little Man walked in from the garden and said "Shit, Fuck, what the hell is that?" while holding a ladybug.... It's one of those moments you really feel proud as a parent. Especially when it was followed by a "Godverdomme"... Dutch for "goddamn".. yes, we had succeeded!! Our first-born was bilingual !!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

5 Best Songs About Fathers

I know that everyone has lists, but I couldn't resist making one myself. These are my favourite songs about being a father. Strangely enough, lots of songs about father - son conflict and not so much about the father-daughter relationship. Anyway, here they are. My 5 favourite songs (actually 6) ...

Father and Son - Cat Stevens

I've always been a fan of Cat Stevens (or Yusuf). This beautiful song featured on the 1970 album "Tea for the Tillerman". The song frames a conversation between a son and a father. The son thinks it's time to break away and find his own destiny, while the father doesn't seem to understand why. Although a lot of people thought that Cat Stevens was taking the side of the son (also taking into account the era the song was written in); while talking to Rolling Stone magazine he explained: "Some people think that I was taking the son’s side," its composer explained. "But how could I have sung the father’s side if I couldn’t have understood it, too? I was listening to that song recently and I heard one line and realized that that was my father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father speaking."

Daughter / Rufus is a Tit Man - Loudon Wainwright III

So I found this song about a father and a daughter. Having just become a father to a baby girl, I just had to include this beautiful ode to a daughter.

While I was doing research, I found this little gem of a song "Rufus is a tit man" by Loudon Wainwright III. I had to include it in this list as it's very funny (and true!!). It made J. laugh with tears in her eyes and for that reason alone it can go in this list.

Cat's in the Cradle - Harry Chapin

The next song is almost a warning for every dad out there. When you have a family, you try to work and and provide for them, but at one point you might realise that you didn't spend enough time with your kids and they have grown up. It's always a balance I'm trying to strike. How to have a comfortable life, but at the same time, spend enough time with J. and the kids....

A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash

I don't think I agree on the parenting style... But it's a great song... I wonder what Dr. Sears thinks of this?? hahaha...


Isn't She Lovely - Stevie Wonder

This songs sums it up how I felt when my daughter was born. 

OK, I know there are a lot of other songs out there that could make the cut. Do you have any suggestions or feel that I should have included other songs? Just let me know.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Pain of Parenthood

Just over 2.5 years ago I became a father for the first time.

My son L. was born after heavy labour and delivery. After 24 hours of labour they had to use the forceps to deliver L. Although grateful that they didn't have to perform a C-section, I am still wondering if it could have gone differently. But that story is for another time.

After L. was born, a pediatrician came to check up on him. It was at that moment that I was confronted with the worst feeling you can have as a parent: helplessness. She listened to his heart and detected a murmur. During the delivery with the forceps, they hurt his left arm and shoulder. When L. was sleeping, he was holding his arm close to his body instead of the usual 'up-in-the-air' position babies like to take. The pediatrician did some tests on his arm and said that he might never get full mobility. In the future he might even have trouble getting dressed, let alone play ball. J. and I were devastated. We started crying. I know that some parents receive a lot more devastating news than that, but at that moment our world collapsed. The dreams of a perfect baby were coming to an end. The doctor started listing possible treatments for his heart and arm. All of them involved surgery. I was scared.

About an hour later they came to fetch L. for an echocardiograph. It turned out he had a 2mm VSD, basically a small hole in the wall between the left and right ventricles of his heart. When we got back to our room, another doctor was waiting for us. He was the head of the pediatrics department and wanted to have a look at L. He did the same tests his colleague had done before him. He looked at us and asked why we looked so gloomy. I told him about his colleague and her list of treatments. He looked at us bewilderd. "We should keep an eye on this VSD, but it's really very small and it will probably heal by itself. I'll schedule you for some appointments," he said, "and with regards to his arm, I think some pain medication to start and he should be better in a few days." I asked about his mobility. "Give it 3 or 4 days and he'll be fine. No worries." The doctor also reminded us to enjoy the moment. J. and I looked at each other and felt relief and anger at the same time. What just happened? It turned out that the first doctor was a student (it was a university teaching hospital) and she had felt the need to impress us with her knowledge of complicated surgeries and procedures. By doing that, she had scared fresh new parents for no reason at all.

That was the first time I was confronted with the pain of parenthood. The sinking, helpless feeling you get when seeing your child hurt. I realised that Iwould do anything to take away his pain. If I could sign a paper that would allow me to feel all the pain L. would feel in his entire life instead of him; I would sign in a heartbeat.

After 3 days L.'s arm had healed up completely and after 4 months the cardiologist gave him the all clear on the VSD.

My second major confrontation with 'the pain of parenthood' happened this week. J. and I are of the belief that we should allow our children to explore as much as possible. We give them the freedom to discover their surroundings. So when we visit the Zoo, for example, we let L. run around (we don't lose sight of him) and let him pick which animals he wants to see. So this is what we did last Sunday morning. The Antwerp Zoo is only 5 minutes away and we have a membership, so whenever we can, we like to go and see the animals during all the different seasons. We consider the Zoo to be our own garden.

After a nice visit we were heading to the exit.

J. wanted to quickly visit the giftstore; but L. wanted to see the flamingos one more time. We split up and I followed L. to the flamingos. He was running towards them, when he suddenly tripped and fell. He fell with his head on a bench. Blood everywhere. I know that headwounds bleed profusely, and in my career I've seen some terrible wounds, but when your 2.5 year old kid is bleeding, nothing can prepare you for it. I scooped him up and put pressure on the wound with my fingers while running to the first aid station. A visit to the ER was necessary and the good doctors glued his head back together.

When my child is hurt, it hurts me just the same. It is gutwrenching and nausiating. This goes, not only for the big events, but also for the small daily events that hurt my kid. I want to protect him at all cost. Somebody who looks at my kid in a funny way? ... I want to hurt that person and do mean things to them. Another kid in the playground who pushes my child... I want to punch that kid in the face.

But this is part of the catch 22 of parenthood. As a good parent you want your child to discover the world. You want your child to explore and to be amazed by new things. This is part of the learning process for every child, everywhere in the world. As a parent and a dad, you need to allow it. The catch? Every time your child goes into unknown territory, the chance of getting hurt increases. Not only in a physical way, but also emotional. When your child is sad because of a failed adventure with a new toy, you feel sad. You don't want your child to feel that way.

Parenthood is finding a balance. Nobody can tell you where the boundaries of exploration exist for you and your child. You'll figure this out for yourself every day again, and again, and again. Every stage in growing up requires more exploration, more independence and probably more hurt in the process. As parents, we know that getting hurt is part of the learning process and we know that kids need to do it; but it doesn't mean you have to like it.

Is parenthood and being a dad easy? Sometimes it is. Most of the time it is hard and difficult. It can be frustrating, it can be tiring, it can be emotional, it can be all of these things thrown together in a debilitating cocktail of feelings.  I might say something controversial here, but I believe that any parent who says parenthood is easy is not a good parent. Parenthood should be difficult. If your choices as a parent sometimes don't keep you up at night or sometimes don't make you doubt yourself, you are not giving it your all. Parenthood and fatherhood shouldn't be easy.

Fatherhood is the most amazing experience, it grows you as a human being. It warms your heart.

You know what fatherhood does to you? It makes you a man.