Finding Space to Get It Wrong

Making room for making mistakes

There is no such thing as the perfect parent.

Those of us who write about our lives cannot help but put our best face forward. Even when we write honestly (and I always try and write as factually and as emotionally honestly as I am capable), this very fact becomes part of the image we put forth. When we write about parenting, we place our great mistakes in the role of life-lesson learned instead of some run-of-the-mill screwup we made because we were tired, or cranky, or just plain blew it.

Sometimes, many bloggers just make it up. The perfect marriage. The perfect kids. The lessons imparted from every venture to the top of some mountain, or to a volunteer cause.

Or from a brand everyone is just delighted and honored to work with.

Last week, Josi Denise called shenanigans, and while it rang a bit “Bye, Felicia,” she called us parenting bloggers out in a way we need to be called out. She admitted to faking it. She called out industry, and fellow bloggers. She pulled apart what used to be a writing venture and has turned into a cottage industry: the “mommy blog.” I don’t exempt us dads from it, either. We’re just not quite as marketable, except as morons who would rather let their babies sit in their own feces for three hours while the big game is on.

I don’t write “sponsored posts” (read: commercials) and I never, ever will. I abhor a branded “twitter party” (read: long-form audience participation ad – “Q1. How does being Zestfully Clean make you feel confident during those stressful mommy hours?”) and have muted or unfollowed every account I can find that participates them. I’m not sure I exactly fit into the culture Denise called out, but I’m not sure I don’t – and it got me thinking about the things about which I *don’t* want to blog.

Like the time I accidentally grabbed a poorly-labeled bottle of 1/2 strength hydrogen peroxide and used it to flush my then-toddler’s feeding tube instead of the nearby sterile water. Or the time the same tube got caught on the straps of her carseat as I was taking her out of the car, and I accidentally ripped it out. Or the time she told me she couldn’t breathe right, and I trusted the numbers on a machine instead of listening to her, and she ended up in the hospital with pneumonia.  Or the times early on in dating where I disappeared because I wasn’t interested or was too overwhelmed by life and just couldn’t date anymore. Or the times when I fell in love with women who were completely unavailable to me. Or the times after my divorce when I was so bad at dating I self-destructed good relationships. Or the times I couldn’t separate the enormity of dadding a special needs kid from the need to be good at work and instead of asking for help I just flailed poorly at everything.  Or the time I stayed with a woman who was entirely wrong for me because it felt preferable to being alone. Or the inability to invest in friendships the way they need to be nurtured because of a lack of emotional energy. Or the digitally-dusty half-memoir sitting in the cloud without progress. Or the bags of chips and extra tacos that gained back the weight I lost. Or any number of other daily disappointments we foist upon ourselves.

There are not lessons in these. There is no neat 500-word summation that leaves us with a greater understanding of the world at large. There isn’t a smile in the sudden ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds and illuminating the dust motes floating through the windows because I didn’t have enough energy left after doing everything else a single parent has to do and also to dust. They are just things that happen.

Sometimes, we just fuck up.

Maybe we should write that more often, instead of portraying everything as rosy or illuminating. Maybe we need to write all of reality. Maybe the flailing about for an anchor is the meaning. Maybe I wouldn’t be so worried about it if I was Zestfully clean.

Maybe we all need to give ourselves the space to make mistakes, and the freedom to leave them as what they are: transient, sometimes hurtful, and maybe even devoid of meaning. Even to our sponsors.

 

On the Radio

Ben and Emma 2016

Occasionally, I am able to con the good folks at WBUR’s Cognoscenti to publish some of my drivel. Even more occasionally, I go in and record said drivel for the radio. This is, perhaps, one of the pieces of drivel of which I am most proud. In it, I recount an experience I recently had watching my daughter stop breathing following surgery. It was terrifying and monumental, and ultimately ok.

One of those pieces broadcast today. You can read it by clicking the link above or listen to an abridged version below.

Give it a listen, won’t you?

The Two Brains

Treadmills. Ugh

 

“Oh, not this shit again,” my asshole brain whined as I approached the treadmill.

“You know the drill,” said my inner masochist. “My time to shine.”

I stepped fatly onto the machine and busied myself with my earbuds, curious as to how this would all shake out.

“We’ve already been through this. It sucked.” Asshole had a point.

“Yeah, and we lost seventy pounds.” Oh snap.

“And then we gained it all back. Plus some. Why bother?” I imagined the Taco Bell down the street. Time for anything supreme.

“Welp,” said the masochist, “you snore. Because you’re fat.” Sigh. True that.

I’m not fat. It’s this bag of Nachos Bellagrande masquerading as a person who’s fat. He’s our Uber.”

Ouch.

I start the C25K app on my phone. Day one, run one. Take that, asshole brain.

“See? The Uber knows where it’s at,” said my masochist.  Damnit.

“Begin brisk 5 minute warm-up walk,” said the too-chipper voice of the app. She sounds foxy, but Mormon foxy.

“Ok,” said masochist brain.

“SHUT UP YOU HARPY,” yelled asshole brain.

I started to walk as the treadmill spun up to 3 MPH.

“Goddamnit,” said the asshole brain.

“Just 3?” asked the masochist.

Two minutes in, and I started to sweat a bit.

“Ew,” said the asshole.

“Yeah, that sucks,” said the masochist, “use your towel.”

I used my towel.

As I dabbed at my glistening brow, asshole brain began a chant in time with my steps.

“Fuck. You. Fuck. You. Fuck. You.”

“Begin running for one minute,” said the foxy Mormon.

“Nope!” said asshole brain.

“BRING IT!” shouted the masochist.

As my steps increased in rate to a slow, fat 6 MPH, the chant increased with it.

“fuck. you. Fuckyou. fuckyou. fuckyoufuckyofuckyoufuckyou”

It was getting harder to pass the sweat off as glistening.

“Resume walking.”

“FINALLY. ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US?” moaned asshole brain.

“Yeah, prolly ok to take a break,” agreed masochist brain.

I slowed my pace back to 3.

“You have completed run one of eight,” purred the Mormon.

“OHHHHHH no,” said the asshole brain. “TAXI!”

“Breathe through it,” said the masochist.

I imagined that the foxy Mormon looked like the women in the gym: tight leggings and sports bras over Yoga bodies, but she also was a bit judgy.

“How are you the only person in this whole goddamned gym sweating, fatso?” inquired asshole brain.

He had a point. The middle-aged dude next to me had just set his treadmill for “THE MIGHTY PEAKS OF EVEREST” or some shit, and was running nearly vertically at a full out sprint while texting and not sweating. I hated him. I hoped his sherpas killed him when he stopped for some kale and quinoa bars.

“Begin running for one minute,” said the foxy Mormon app in the judgy sports bra.

“WE JUST STOPPED RUNNING! SOMEBODY SHOOT HER PLEASE” said the asshole brain.

Masochist brain tried to say something, but was not audible over the rhino-like thunder of my footfalls.

“fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou,” shouted asshole brain, clear as day.

I wondered how that happened.

“I bought a megaphone, Jabba,” he shouted and let a long squeal of feedback burst out of the megaphone.

Masochist brain zipped up his gimp mask. I continued to run.

“You have completed run two of eight.” I was sure that judgy foxy Mormon ice queen was smirking at my moobs.

Some point later, I completed my cooldown. I turned off the Mormon, and told her to put on some damn clothes.

The asshole brain was sitting in a corner, crying.

Masochist brain said “Ok. Weights?”

It’s going to be a long process.

 

The Loneliest Number

Joy Division Love Will Tear Us Apart

A single father must hold two hearts.

The first heart, the dearest, perhaps, is the one wholly devoted to his child. This is the heart that wakes up in the middle of the night at the slightest cough. It is the heart that breaks for his sick child as he tries to sleep next to her in the hospital. It is this heart which is conditioned to protect his daughters above all else, and which his brain must check in order to allow her to blossom. This heart fills as the days pass, and aches as his daughter grows ever closer to growing away.

This is as it should be.

His second heart bleeds.

It is this heart he holds for himself, tentatively extending it to others in the hopes they will help heal old wounds. He retracts it when new pins are brought forth, only to be extended again when he thinks the recipient holds no pins. Some day, this heart hopes he is right. This is the heart we must hide from our children while it bleeds, and show as often as possible when it is whole and healthy and held.

It is not an easy balance.

When he dates, when he finds partners, before he can fully be with her she must know him a parent. And yet, as a parent, he does not want to involve her until he knows they are fully committed. It is a paradox I have yet to navigate successfully. I have a remarkable child I wish to share with just the right woman. For her to be just the right woman, she’ll have to love my daughter like her own – which risks pins in both of our hearts.

Hers has been stabbed more than once. Mine more than twice.

One of the difficult things when dating as a parent with a disabled child is that our lives are unpredictable. Things can be sailing along smoothly and suddenly we get two years of hospitalizations and stress. It can be hard to date us. It can be harder to love us. It takes a person of remarkable understanding and patience, a person with a boundless capacity for love. All too often, we discover too late that the person we suspected has these things does, in fact, not.

And so we retract our hearts. We mend. We fill our first heart with love, and we dine out for one.

And we tell ourselves it will be ok. Even when it doesn’t feel like it possibly can be. Even when love tears us apart. Again.

This blog is reborn. It will be an extension of that second heart to you, readers. It will document my attempts to extend it more personally to someone special, along with parenting, politics, prose, and products. Basically, whatever I feel like. Read if you like, but keep the pins at bay, won’t you?