Parental payback

I’m not sure whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or just the holidays, but I’ve had a bit of ennui lately and have had trouble keeping up with things. I know it all stems from bad behaviors tending toward staying up late which has just been screwing with things the next morning, interfering with my good morning habits. I’m sure I could come up with lots of excuses as to why I didn’t exercise or have been consuming lots of sugar, caffeine and alcohol; staying up late on screens and so forth, but I’m not going to bother justifying it.

One of the thing that I’ve learned from meditation is the illusion of the self, specifically the storytelling that we all do to ourselves throughout the day to try to make sense of our lives. Our post-hoc justification for the way things are the way they are, or our apparent lack of free will. It’s so easy to fall back into old traps, old habits, and living with the cognitive dissonance between the way we are and the way we want to be can be disorienting if we pay too much attention to it, so we find ways to justify the way things are.

When I was younger, in my adolescence, I used to have these unhealthy behaviors with relationships — for whatever passed for relationships back in high school. Part of it was an inability to communicate, or even be able to acknowledge what I wanted, let alone express it when it came to another person. Eventually these unrequited feelings poisoned the relationship, a pattern that played out time after time until later in my adult life. I still struggle with it in my marriage now. But a few experiences opening up over the past few years have proved that a lot of the fear of acceptance that I might have felt were unfounded. It seems silly to say it as someone who has been married for almost ten years, or almost sad to thing that feelings of self-worth that I formed as a child are still affecting my ability to be happy as an adult. It just emphasizes the huge importance of being a parent.

Ultimately, I feel like I’m failing in that respect in some ways as well. It’s easy to slip into detrimental patterns in response to the way my children act, and it’s tiring to pay them the proper type of attention that they need. I have this need for authority in my household, for my children to obey and help with things like setting and clearing the table, doing laundry, and so forth. My children are so young, though, I wonder whether I’m pushing them too hard, but I always suspect that I’m not pushing them enough. I could tell stories for hours about my own experiences growing up, and I’m just emulating the behaviors that my father expressed, even though I have plenty of first-hand experience with how that backfired.

Or did it?

I won’t say that my dad was abusive. We get along fine these days. He just has a lack of, how do you say, couth, in many respects that I’ve managed to escape, thankfully. But he no doubt grew up in a much different world than today, and his daddy’s method of discipline would no doubt be considered child abuse today. Somehow, though, I feel like I’m failing as a father whenever words and reason fail me and I have to resort to physical discipline. But there are some times when my child just will not listen, becomes belligerent, and it feels like backing down is the wrong thing to.

My wife is a bit of a trained professional when it comes to kids. She’s worked in daycares and counseling with a background in early childhood development. I didn’t know shit about kids until I had one. She tries to tell me what’s ‘appropriate’ behavior for their ages, but even she resorts to less than ideal responses when our kids are being particularly difficult.

When I was younger, back home in the rural county where I grew up, I was around my cousins almost all of the time. We used to take great pleasure in driving the adults around us completely insane. Acting up to see how we we could push the limit, driving the adults around us to cursing and yelling. We thought it was a game.

Turns out payback is a bitch.

Gaming for dads

I have been a gamer literally all my life. I remember my dad’s IBM PS/2, it had a game that taught me to type, it was like missile command but letters were falling from the sky: a, d , s, f then later: j, k, l, ;. There was another that I was horrible at, it was a robot that turned into a jet and flew around in some underground cavern with enemies. Then came the Nintendo, the Gameboys. Final Fantasy and Mario Brothers. The second-gen consoles, then back to the PC and simulators. Practically taught myself to fly a plan for real — I have the video to prove it! — and still waiting for an opportunity to take a car out on a real track.

The height of VGA excellence in 1987. I was eight.

Anyways, I don’t have time much for games these days. Not with the side hustles and other projects going on. What I have enjoyed is playing games with the kids. I’ve managed to avoid most of the Candyland and Chutes and Ladders type of games, for the most part. I taught the older one to play Carcassonne. Not that she’s good at it, mind you, but she can at least get the hang of it. Forbidden Island was another that she likes to play, although it’s mostly me directing and doing most of the work. So of course I went out and bought Pokemon for eldest’s last birthday, and ran through a couple games. Takes practically 90 minutes with all the setup and stuff, which is hard to do with the little one wanting to have a hand in it. So I put on the computer version, and so far we’ve been pretty good with that. Safe, from a parenting perspective, but the Pokemon show, and the books, are about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the other copycat shows with things like fighting tops and whatnot that are all designed to sell crap to kids. Of course, G.I. J.O.E. and He-Man were just as bad, but we’ll leave that for another day.

So anyways, I decided to let the eldest start taking a play through some of the games on my Steam collection. I put on some simple, E for Everyone things that I thought she would enjoy, and she eventually took to Hexcells, a great logic puzzle game, and has been playing through that for the past couple weeks. Just an hour on Saturday or Sunday. Eventually she started getting up early during the week, doing her chores without asking in order to play for fifteen or twenty minutes before we go into daycare.

Well earlier this week I heard about WOW Classic getting released this month, and I thought I’d see how well she did with that. We had a bad experience with Minecraft where she kept getting killed by zombies and got really frustrated and I had to cut her time short due to a tantrum, so I wanted to keep a close eye on her and see how well she could do with a close eye on her. So I created an account for her, enabled parental controls, — no chat, time limits — and let her play Hearthstone while WOW downloaded. She got the hang of it after an hour. Not that she was very tactical about it, but she managed to play through the tutorial and and a few practice rounds with me peeking over her shoulder and explaining things. So I thought everything was cool.

We took a break and I told mom what we were up to, and BOOM!! Big fight. “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old!” “Well, maybe, but I’m gonna watch her and play with her and see how she does.” “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old!” “Well, I turned off the chat and put on a time limit so…” “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old!” And things just went downhill from there until I was repeating back “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old”.

So we were done with games for the day, so I cooked dinner, went outside with the kids to let them play while I read, and they went inside while I finished reading, cleaned up, and snuck in an ice cream sandwich. I went inside, to find the three of them sitting on the couch, watching Jupiter Ascending, with guns and shooting and blasting and torture and all kinds of other stuff.

I just sat on the couch and read my book till it was time for baths.

On parenthood

I haven’t written too much about parenting, or being a dad, in this space. Maybe because more than half a decade being one, I still feel like I’m not very good at it. There’s a saying I’ve heard mentioned about meditation: if you think you’re enlightened, spend some time with your family. And my kids can push my buttons like no ones business. I suppose it’s only my fault. I was a grade-A hellion when I was younger, taking absolute pleasure driving the adults around me batty. I remember my cousins and I would take immense pleasure driving our grandmother to swear at us. And I seem to have to inherited the paternal authoritarianism that I rebelled against when I was a child, having turned into some sort of dictator toward my children: driving them to take over more and more of the daily household chores; limiting their dietary choices away from sweets and carbs; depriving them from screen time, or at least the passive kind.

I don’t suppose any of this is worse than what most parents go through, I surely don’t think it’s anywhere near the type of corporal punishment that I used to receive when I was younger. Yesterday’s newspaper headline told of a mother sentenced to 20 years in the death of her five-year-old after his head was knocked through sheet-rock. I know there’s monsters in the world, and I know I’m not one. But damn if my kids don’t test me some times.

It’s a bit paradoxical that it seems almost easier to handle the kids when it’s just me, versus when my wife and I are sharing parenting duties. I think part of it is due mostly to differences in parenting style, but I really think that the kids are playing us against each other in some respects. Not just that standard kid stuff where I’ll say know so they’ll go and ask mom instead kind of stuff, but just knowing on some level who is likely to let them get away with horseplay (dad) or who’s more likely to let them eat crackers on the couch while watching TV (not dad).

And the tantrums my oldest gets when she doesn’t get her way! Every denial is a betrayal and is the END. OF. THE. WORLD. Taking away TV is like the worst possible thing on earth, and the mere suggestion that she turn it off to do a chore can turn into a maelstrom of whining and pouting.

So it’s with mixed feelings that I have to say that things actually tend to go a bit smoother when the girls know it’s just them and dad. My wife has been out of town since Friday, and I’m proud to say that we made it through the weekend alive. I’ll have to save the glamours of 2AM bed-wetting for another day, but I am pleased to report that it is 9:30PM and both of my children are in bed asleep. In their own beds.

My wife and I definitely differ on sleep strategy. She’s content to lay down with the youngest for ‘nuggles’ until she falls asleep, but the process of getting the girls down for bedtime to dreamtime can run two hours, and I’ve got stuff to do, y’know? And the youngest knows that daddy doesn’t want her to sleep in the big bed. So much so that if my wife is home and I try to bring the youngest upstairs for bedtime, she will scream bloody murder to no end, until eventually mommy will come and get her. But with the wife gone, it’s a completely different story.

There’s been a bit of sleep deprivation here lately, to overcome any challenges to night-night time. No nap today and plenty of activities to wear her down, and she was ready before dinner was even on the table. And with half a melatonin gummy for dessert, she was out before the sun went down. And she’s already been up a few times since then, but went back down in her bed with no fuss. And I didn’t even half to lay there with her while she did it.

Sounds like a win for me.