Monthly Archives: September 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday Son; in 2 years you get to pick your own Switch

On Monday my son turned 2. Over the weekend Adrian Peterson faced child abuse allegations. I saw the pictures of Peterson’s 4 year old son: http://www.tmz.com/2014/09/12/adrian-peterson-indicted-for-child-abuse/. I didn’t want to see them; I wanted to see them. I viewed them begrudgingly. I knew it’d hurt my soul to see lashes and lesions on such a tiny, harmless, being. I thought of my own son—in all his innocence. I thought of his innocence even when he’s misbehaving—the ways in which he’s simply trying to solve the whole existence thing: what it all means, how we’re supposed to behave, what’s acceptable, what’s taboo, his attempts to answer the most fundamental life question: who am I?

I wondered what drove a bulldozer of a man to that place (have you seen Adrian Peterson)—the place of handling your 4 year old like a man who’d just slapped your wife. I knew the narrative behind his childhood and his off and on again relationship with his father (his father served prison time, I believe). Hell, I’ve been a Peterson supporter since his first snap at Oklahoma. I knew this had to be some kind of learned behavior. I didn’t necessarily blame Peterson. I thought what he did was fucked up, but I wasn’t pointing fingers. I knew the diagnosis he needed was outside my wheelhouse—I’m not a psychologist—I know some fucked up shit when I see it, but I can’t pretend to always know the whys behind it. And in observing the public’s reaction to it all, I realized there were a bunch of other things I didn’t know. I didn’t know this incident would elicit disgusting enabling, didn’t know it’d provide a canvas for us to brag about getting our asses beat like criminals, didn’t know so many people are so satisfied at what they’ve become—who they’ve become.

We didn’t do much for my son’s birthday weekend. For the most part he was allowed to pig out and poop unapologetically. The boy had muffins, cupcakes, and tacos galore. He had a blast. His happiness sprayed across his face as if it was permanent—tattoo like. On Sunday we watched the Packer game and blasted Wiz Khalifa, “We Dem Boyz,” each time a touchdown was scored—his dance moves seem to improve every week. I was curious as to whether he knew it was his birthday. I’m sure he knew something was up (normally his diet is closely monitored), but I’m not sure he knew it was his birthday.

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As we celebrated last weekend, I kept seeing Peterson’s 4 year old in my son. I wondered how much more weight my son would gain in the next two years (he’s about 28 pounds now). How much more height he might add. I thought about the hurt in his face when I’m slightly off balance and slightly raise my voice in the name of disciplining—the look he gives reminding me of the things I stand for.

Look, I know raising kids ain’t easy. I know kids will push us to places of self-exploration we had no intentions of going. I’m not interested in holistically telling folks how to raise their children (although I tend to believe we belong to the world—I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we have the right to mold our children into anything we’d like). This considered, it’s difficult to explain how disappointed I was to hear so many people excuse the abuse of the child in this particular case. And I hoped that I’m surrounded by people who would never excuse me for behavior anywhere close to this (emphasis on close). I was astonished to hear people speak so glowingly about the time their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers laid a switch, belt, paddle, hand to them; how many people reminisced and high-fived at the memory of getting their asses beat, how many people proclaimed “I turned out ok.” Did you?

At the end of last week, I was listening to ESPN radio and Colin Cowherd’s radio show. He was discussing the Adrian Peterson situation and speaking to the public’s embracement of corporal punishment. And at one point he mentioned the whole “I turned out ok” rebuttal and asked a question I’d been thinking about for a few days: did you?

Things could be better. Things could have been better. When I think of the folks I know personally whose parents beat their asses growing up, they all seem to have an array of behavioral complications—starting with emotional. The obvious response is that we’ve evolved and things that were acceptable, culturally, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years ago just aren’t accepted anymore. This is true. But this aside, I think it’s valuable to consider the ways in which our life experiences may have shaped us, not just positively, but in problematic ways. Just because you don’t rob or hit people over the head don’t mean you turned out ok. For me, I could’ve done without the times I was called the N word on a playground of the predominantly white elementary school I attended, my aunt could’ve done without the time that guy went upside her head, and my sister could’ve done without my parents’ divorce. But hey, we turned out ok.

I can remember almost every time when growing up I thought my life was in danger: the time when they were shooting around the corner, or down the street, or 50 feet away from me. I can remember all the times we ran from gunshots, or the times some divine intervention saved a dire situation. And I turned out alright? Fuck that. I don’t want my son to ever experience these things. And while yeah, maybe, I turned out alright, I’m sure if I sat down and spoke with a professional, they’d have some things to say about the lifelong effects of these life experiences (possibly why every time I hear any loud noise, I instinctively am prepared to duck). And while yeah, maybe writing books of poetry and teaching is really cool, in some parallel universe I may be curing cancer or helping to feed impoverished communities. And you, maybe instead of that job you detest so much, and that spouse you argue with so much, and those kids you yell at so much, you could love going to work, have the ability to be more affectionate with your children, know the power of words when negotiating or disagreeing—maybe, just maybe, if you didn’t have all those ass whippings you like to laugh so much about.

And I’m not suggesting we come down on our parents, uncles, aunts, or grandparents who raised us and how they raised us. They did the best they could. But I am suggesting that we take time to reflect on right and wrong, on our responsibilities to the information we have, on how child abuse is just that. And I’m saddened to know that if something like this was to ever happen to my son (in some parallel universe where I’m not really me or his mom is not really her) there would be droves of people who wouldn’t come to his defense, who wouldn’t protect him, who would proclaim they “turned out ok” and assume my/OUR child will.

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Shame>Less

So my boy began daycare again last week; this after a summer of much spoiling by grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. I worried how he’d readjust, especially since he was changing daycares and had finally gotten off the waitlist for what we’d deemed the daycare of all daycares. The “Mothership,” if you will.

That’s right folks; he was attending the “Fort Knox” baby university daycare where all the babies’ baby dreams came true (see my earlier post “A Tale of Two Daycares” https://derrickharriell.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/a-tale-of-two-daycares/): this daycare provides parents with special keycards for entry, large playgrounds separating different age groups, and…and…wait for it…a real pool with appointed lifeguards and swim teachers (not that I’d allow my two year old to swim without me, but the ambiance is pretty pimp. And for him to be able to say, well he can’t really talk now, but possibly in the future he’ll tell someone to “sit down. You don’t know nothing about ballin’. I had a pool in my daycare. I been ballin’ since I was a toddler.”).

What was ironic about this new daycare journey as opposed to the previous one is that the previous experience was only for a few weeks while I taught a summer course. I knew we’d get back to our regular schedule of him and I being home all day together once the summer session ended. And that’s how it was. I’d completed the summer session in late May and he and I proceeded with our house-raging behavior. I knew the next time would be different—it’d be forever. Once he began daycare this fall, he’d be going permanently. And once he became too old for daycare, he’d start one of those Pre-K things—he’d never be my house buddy again. And while this thought made me a bit somber, I can’t front, I counted down the days, hours, and tiny seconds that led us to last week: that led us to his new daycare adventure.

Life has a way of making you feel like shit for the things you want. I remember when I first started graduate school, and how often I’d imagine my life ten years down the road (you know the ten year question: “where do you see yourself in ten years”). And yes, I envisioned myself in a tenure track teaching position, and those days I wasn’t teaching I knew I’d be writing, working out, or golfing—what else was there to life (I don’t fish, I don’t do video games). While I knew I wanted children, somehow, my silly mind skipped the born part and everything else before the age of 6. In my head, I imagined kids, and poof, they were in school—and I was golfing and writing and shit.

Needless to say, I’ve been enthralled by the idea of waking up, brewing coffee, opening the blinds, and sitting in front of a blank word document. I’ve been in fits of desire for fits of silence. I’ve listened to people envy my blessing of a child and looked back at them and thought, “You get to write all day in silence.” Life has this tricky way of making you feel like shit for the things you want. Because the times I counted down my boy going to daycare, I’ve felt conflicted, and non-appreciative. I mean, how many parents really get the opportunity to be home with their kid for the first two years of their lives—I knew that was a blessing. And while even embracing this blessing and all the planet-shattering love I have for him, I still wanted to write– alone (without changing diapers between stanzas, feeding between grading, or playing between shaving).

So here I am—writing this blog in quiet while my boy is at his cool daycare. And the coffee is exactly where it needs to be, as is the noises outside, as are the poems in my head. And I don’t have to teach for another 5 hours which means who knows what might become of this day. And I was just thinking this morning about how we contradict ourselves. For example, I expressed earlier how much I worried about his adjustment. I was extremely concerned he’d cry all day and be miserable. As a parent, the thought of your child miserable makes your stomach sick. But ironically, each day I dropped him off and his mother picked him up, he was content. The reports from his teachers emphatically highlighted his joy being there. And so how did that make me feel, good? No, I felt blue that he didn’t cry out for me/us. Deep down I wanted him to throw a fit and say “get my daddy, now.” But apparently he didn’t. And I wondered if he needed us. I wondered if we gave him to another family, after a few weeks of adjusting, would he simply forget us/me. Would the first two years of his life and all the days we danced on Frat House Fridays dissipate?

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Here I am writing this entry and it’s before noon and everything is as it should be. I do wonder what my boy is doing right now—if he’s wondering what I’m doing—if he knows I could always write perfectly fine with him right here next to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Funny

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted to this blog, and you should know that my absence was mostly connected to the reason I write this in the first place. What I mean is that I’ve often been conflicted in my attempt to post weekly and how it might interfere with my being a father—the amount of time it takes away from him (I discuss this in a previous post: “Since I Seen’t You”). And so over the summer I allowed the blog to take a back seat. After a semester of teaching and toddler rearing, I simply wanted to be: wanted to be present during our home visit, subsequent travels, and road trips.

You know what’s funny about a 12 hour drive from Oxford MS to Milwaukee WI with a 20 month old, is that sometimes your baby is asleep and you’re cruising through Missouri (don’t ask which part because I fucking can’t remember—but not St. Louis). And he’s only been asleep for about 20 minutes because during the first 6 hours of the drive, he bounced around his car seat in some molly-induced turn-up. And somehow you believe he knows how to torture you—how to play your buttons like Beethoven. Because he’s never gone 6 hours in the a.m. without a nap—normally he can’t go 30 minutes in a car without passing out—but he knows daddy prefers silence or soul music for these long hauls. But he don’t care. He gives daddy loud baby talk and whining. His eyes say “daddy what you gone do, huh, keep yo eyes on the road brotha.” He does this for almost 6 hours (through Mississippi, through Tennessee, and through Missouri).

But he’s sleep now, and you’re content. And you’re driving through some part of Missouri with something sweet on the radio. So here’s what’s funny about those twelve hour drives sometimes. Sometimes traffic begins to slow down, then really slow down, then really really slow down, and then come to a complete halt. And you find yourself thinking it must be some construction work ahead and start looking for which side to merge. But ain’t nobody moving on this freeway, and ain’t nobody merging. We all still like meditation. And it goes on just like this for 20 minutes until a young woman exits her car and casually strolls down the freeway. It’s obvious she’s trying to gain a perspective on what’s ahead. And like us Americans tend to do, everybody else begin to exit their cars. So now people are chatting, looking, and pointing. And you want to get out too but don’t feel comfortable leaving your wife and baby boy. But it’s really starting to look like some Tom Cruise Armageddon shit out there (imagine stacked cars as far as you can see in front and behind you—imagine people casually chatting on the freeway like cooks on a smoke break).

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Here’s what’s not so funny about some traffic jams: some traffic jams happen because a car catches fire on the freeway leaving travelers with nowhere to go (because you’re all stacked like canned biscuits and moving forward isn’t an option). Then you start to realize you may never make it to Milwaukee or even off the freeway or even to pee again—you think—what if I have to pee. And GPS can’t save you now. And because you’d been communicating with other travelers and traffic cops, your napping baby is waking up. This is when a 12 hour drive becomes 14: when you get to see parts of Missouri you didn’t intend to, when the invincible cloak of parenthood and parent intuition takes over, when you’re peering in the rearview mirror at the 2 hours of stop-go, merge-brake, horn blowing, and baby screaming you just left behind.

And once it’s finally all behind you, you remember that you have to go back the same way you came in a little less than a month. And because that ain’t funny, it becomes funny. And you and your family say a prayer for the driver of the car that caught fire. And y’all hope he/she/they made it out in time.

But what’s really funny is this post was never intended to talk about a Missouri apocalypse jam. What I wanted to do was catch y’all up on what’s been happening in the world of parenting since my last post. Here’s a few summer highlights:

Out of the blue my son started making this strange facial expression I deemed “sexy face.” What’s weird about “sexy face” is that sometimes it looks suave and other times like he wants to punch you in the stomach.

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My boy visited Chuck E. Cheese for the first time and balled out. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to go to Chuck E. Cheese as an adult without a budget—you can ball out in Chuck E. Cheese with just one kid for a couple dollars (I remember my mom passing out tokens like bread). In retrospect, I’m not sure if he went to Chuck E. Cheese or if I went to Chuck E. Cheese. I just know I’m thankful they didn’t have beer.

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I collected the MIAL 2014 Poetry Book of the Year Award in Jackson, Mississippi. And since we didn’t have a sitter on the first night, I popped a bottle in the hotel room and partied with my boy. See how excited he is. See how hard he turns-up.

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We moved at the end of the summer. And what was so funny about that is somehow my boy picked up an affinity for cleaning. He loves to clean (I’ll elaborate in a later post). In some weird way he sensed what was going on. He was eager to see what was on the other side of those doors.

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And so that’s most of it. Well kind of. There was that time he fell out of the bed, and the moment he started to choke intentionally, and the time he started banging his head against the wall when he was pissed, and the funny time when…