Tag Archives: parenting

The kids are alright, until they’re not

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There are many stages in parenting, and I have no idea which one I’m currently in. 

I despise parenting advice, so this isn’t advice, in fact, don’t take it as advice. It’s just an experience I’ve had recently. Take it for what it’s worth. 

When your children are born, they are very needy, and your entire life is given over to them. 

Well, your wife’s entire life is given over to them. If you’re a dad, you try to help out where you can, but the blowouts and the, um, feeding, tend to fall into mom’s lap, generally. 

When they get a little older, they gain some independence, and this is both awesome and terrible at the same time. 

They can hold their head up on their own, they can roll over on the bed, which means you don’t have to wake up panicked in the middle of the night fearing your child has expired from sudden infant death syndrome. 

But they can roll off the bed too, which means you suddenly have some freedom, but you also have a different kind of responsibility too. 

Then they learn to walk, and this is exquisite, because you don’t think you can carry them through that Saturday Market one more time. 

And it’s awful too, because now they can run out into the street or disappear in the grocery store. 

For every ounce of independence they gain, parents get a change in responsibility. Children learn things very fast. Their brains are capable of these massive influxes of information. 

As adults, we are losing brain cells and starting to slow down a bit. This has always been a strange dichotomy to me. 

Then there is this interesting moment where your children are old enough to have really intelligent conversations at dinner and where you go to museums together and enjoy good food. 

As a father, you look around at the dinner table at night, and you’re really proud of this little family you helped create. They’re smart and funny and fun to be around. 

And it’s so brief. 

If and when you recognize this moment, it’s too late. You’re already at the end of this golden age. 

Our oldest son became old enough to babysit when we moved to Montana in 2007. This was a righteous blessing for us, since we hadn’t really had a nice hour or two away from the kids in years. 

By the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, the kids were old enough to cook for themselves and generally police their own lives, which gave us a little more independence. 

And then we moved to Chicago in 2012, and we spent the first two months really enjoying each other’s company. Of course I can only speak for myself here. But it’s really true. We had nice meals out in the big, oak-lined backyard. We watched fireflies at night and my wife and I sipped on ice-cold, bone-dry rose while the kids cleaned up the dishes. 

We watched movies together on the really hot days. We went to the beach together and spent Sundays exploring Chicago’s many food choices. 

And then that moment came. 

I was sitting at dinner, and the kids were asking deep questions about world affairs and politics. I felt like the king of the castle. 

Everyone was happy and smiling. It was perfect. 

And then it was gone. 

It might have flickered a little through the winter, there were a few moments here and there, but when the spring rolled around, the kids were gone. 

Off to spend the night at a friend’s house or hanging out at the mall. Skateboarding with the crew from down the street, or flirting with the neighbor girls. 

Even the little one, the joy of my heart, is often gone away to some friend’s house when I come home from work. 

This same one used to run at me full speed whenever I got home. I had to institute a no-hugs-until-I-took-my-shoes-off rule. 

When we go on adventures on the weekends now, the boys automatically opt out, and if I force them to go, they will find a way to ruin the entire experience. If you think teenage girls are moody, I have two boys who say it’s an equal opportunity emotional roller coaster. 

Yes, yes, I realize this is all part of growing up. I understand that this happens. I just wish that I had paid attention enough during the times when everything was perfect. I wish I didn’t just recognize it that last time. 

As I said, I have no idea what stage I’m in currently. Maybe there are a few bad ones before a good one rolls around again.

And this is not advice, merely one man’s experience. Take it for what it’s worth. 

But if you look around your dinner table at night and see your kids elevating the conversation to new levels in an artful way or challenging you with good questions, stop and relish that moment for a bit. 

Because chances are you’re already close to the end of it. 

Peace

The complex world of the bully and the bullied –

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The only time I ever dreamed of being on the radio was when I was going through my “Northern Exposure” phase, and I thought that of all the jobs I’d like to do in a small town, radio host seemed the most logical.

But that was until I decided to be a newspaper reporter, because radio and television reporters get all their news from newspapers, right?

So it’s still strange to me to be on the air at WBEZ, strange enough that during an hour-long conversation on WBEZ’s the Afternoon Shift with Niala Boodhoo today, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, and when the conversation shifted to a caller, I stole a peek at my phone to see that my wife had called.

I quickly texted her telling her to quit calling me while I was on-air. It was the second occurrence in two weeks, but it’s really my fault for taking my phone in the studio at all.

She typed back: “Sorry, but I just got a call from Carson’s school. Some kid hit him several times. He is ok, and the kid is suspended.”

Now I’m professional enough to maintain my composure, especially in a situation where I might have to answer another question from the host, which is exactly what happened a minute later. But it was really hard to last the rest of that segment.

Bullying is a big deal to me.

I think it’s partly because I’ve written and read some horribly sad stories on the subject over the course of my career.

And maybe a little bit my own experiences.

My middle son is the most like me of all my kids. Except perhaps for the fact that he’s truly tiny, while I at least had enough pudge to keep me from breaking bones when I fell down.

I hate the thought of bullying, because the circumstances can be difficult to figure out, and solutions can be even harder to find.

When Cheryl asked him what happened, he said it was no big deal. He told her it’s a kid who has problems and doesn’t realize he’s hurting people when he’s just trying to be funny.

But the principal was concerned enough to call us when the teacher noticed marks on Carson’s face after the boy slapped him and then hit him in the head with a box.

I grilled Carson after dinner, trying to solve the problem, which is what dads do.

But sometimes solving the problem can be difficult, especially when the problem is hard to define.

What do you do about someone’s kid who has already had in-school suspension for the same behavior several times this year, and who probably faces the real possibility of expulsion if the suspensions continue? And this would be school number two this year.

There are several proven methods of dealing with a bully, time-tested methods dads have turned to for years and years.

  • The strength-recognizes-strength approach – parents often spend a lot of money on martial arts lessons for kids – to no avail
  • How big is his dad? – This is used to determine if the kid can be threatened into treating your kids better
  • The I-can-run-faster-than-whatever-is-chasing-me approach – Keep your milk money and flee, use books as counter measures
  • You make up in intelligence what you lack in strength, use your strengths against his weaknesses.

These little rules can work in a multitude of situations, but they won’t solve everything.

Case in point, our oldest boy was once bullied by mean girls who would smack him on the back with their lunch boxes. He’d come home with welts and stories about how teachers just couldn’t believe girls would do such things.

Bullying is getting harder to deal with, because it’s getting more complex. Add texting and social media to the mix, and you might not even notice the bullying that can occur.

Carson told me this kid has problems, and that it’s no big deal. But this is what Carson does. He brings puppies home, and he feels badly for people who don’t fit in. Sometimes he lets those people run roughshod over him.

I worked hard not to get bullied when I was a kid. Still, I couldn’t always avoid it.

I was a master of avoidance and placation. Skills born of necessity.

But one time a boy in my 6th-grade class handed out Lemonheads to several of us. I’m pretty trusting, so I took one and went and sat down.

Nothing seemed out of place, but some students started to complain of stomach aches, and soon there was a lot of commotion going on outside the classroom, and I ended up talking to the principal and several police officers.

They asked me if I felt sick at all. And they asked me if this boy had ever given me other candy.

The answer was no, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a bully who constantly tried to push you down in the hallway or trip you during school concerts.

When I found out he had coated those Lemonheads in some white powder, likely a combination of foot powder and something else, I actually felt sorry for the kid.

Yes, he had tried to poison me and several other students. Yes, he was a bully. But now his life was pretty much over. He was expelled from school and would end up in juvenile detention for most of the rest of his school career.

I could handle the tripping and the shoving. I certainly didn’t need my dad’s help with that. But I was helpless when handed poisoned candy from another kid.

And that’s why bullying is complex. It can be as simple as a random test of strength, or it could result in a mass shooting.

The way your kid responds to these things could have ramifications in the future. And it sucks to have to think about that.

All of these things flashed through my mind when I got that text from my wife while I was on the air today.

And there really is no easy resolution. Yes, we’ll follow up with the principal. We’ll talk to our son and go through scenarios that he’ll likely ignore when the next thing comes around.

And even though it makes me angry that some kid would hurt my kid, even if he thinks it’s in jest, a small part of me feels sorry for him. In the same way I still feel sorry for that kid who tried to poison me all those years ago.

His life was impacted by that bad decision, as lives are, but it cost him an awful lot, and I came through it alright. The possibility that I wouldn’t have turned out alright exists too.

I wonder where he is today.

Facebook allows me to look in on some who bullied in my school days. They are dads now, having to deal with their own sons, who are either bullied or bullies. And I wonder what it’s like from their perspective. Do they have the same rules or a different set?

I still would rather my son be bullied than to be a bully. I think being bullied can build resilience and problem solving skills. Though not always.

I’m not entirely sure what skills, if any, that bullying builds.

As always, in parenting, there are more questions than answers here.

Tim

The High Price of Fatherhood

I don’t know what conversations my dad had with his father when he decided to move across the pond to Europe. 

I know my grandfathers always enjoyed having family around them, in close proximity. The more the merrier. 

In fact, I’m often envious of my cousins, aunts and uncles who got to enjoy so much more of my grandparents’ time than I did. 

My dad had a calling, and you don’t mess with callings. Somewhere deep down, my grandfather must have understood that. 

Perhaps that’s what helped him deal with the grief of having a son many thousands of miles away at a time before communications technology shortened that distance. 

I remember the times we’d visit their home in Pacifica, California. After so much food and fun, we’d hop in the car for the long ride back to Oregon. We’d all look back at Deda and wave at him as his eyes filled with tears. He’d stand in the driveway long after we were gone, and my grandmother would tell us that Deda wouldn’t eat for days after we were gone. He’d just mope around with no appetite for anything. 

It’s a strange relationship between dads and sons. You spend half a life raising them, growing them, praying that they will turn out better than you, do bigger things than you accomplished and reach further than you were able. You spend the other half lamenting the fact that they accomplished all of that so far away from you. 

At least that’s how it goes in my mind. 

I don’t know if my dad and his father ever had a conversation about why he had to live so far away or if there was a mutual understanding for the necessity of distance in their lives. 

My grandfather always had family near him. He had grandkids to keep him company and a table-full of people when he wanted. 

My dad has grandkids to keep him company, when he’s not traipsing around some mysterious former Soviet Republic that ends in stan. He’s got children near him to keep him company and help with the heavy lifting when necessarily. 

And yet I still feel the pang of regret at the fact that this career has taken me so far away. 

Of the cluster of Akimoffs that set up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area many years ago after stepping off a boat from the Philippines after a journey across the length of China after a grueling trek from their home in the Soviet Union, you can imagine it would be desirable to settle down. And settle down they did.

At first one or two made their way north of the city to settle in Santa Rosa. But at a little over an hour’s drive, this was not much of a barrier to a tight-knit family. 

It wasn’t until the 3rd generation came of age that the family began to spread out. My dad being the lone exception. With the Akimoffs spread from Santa Rosa, California to Salem, Oregon, the cousins ventured out. Some went back east for a time, others went north or south but stayed on the West Coast. 

My wife and I bounced around in Hawaii for a while, did a stint in New Zealand and ventured as far east as the Rocky Mountains of Montana. Then it was back to the West Coast, albeit Alaska. The Ring of Fire has some hold over us, at least until recently. 

In this great adventure, one spends an awful lot of time looking forward. Even now as I plan a crazy 4,000-mile move from Alaska to Chicago, I’m looking that direction. 

I haven’t spent a lot of time, until today, thinking about what this move means for my extended family. What it means for my dad. 

We haven’t had a lot of conversations about that. And perhaps you don’t. Maybe the way life works is just one experience built on top of another, formed, in a way, by the random nature of human beings. Perhaps it’s not always as purposeful as we think it is. 

At any given moment, I desire to be sitting around the big oak table in my parents’ house. I loved being only 5 minutes away from them and showing up for dinners and Father’s Day celebrations. 

In that confusing desire to have your sons eclipse you, it’s sometimes difficult to remember in so doing, they may have to go to the far corners of the earth. 

I doubt very much that my grandfathers or my own father hesitated in their support for their sons. If they worried, they kept it deep inside. If they felt the painful separation keenly, they did not burden their sons with that knowledge. 

Even as I embark on another journey that will carry us to a different part of the country, one that the Akimoffs have not staked out nor called home before, I think about my own sons and their journeys only starting to form in their minds. 

What will I do when they go away for college and do not return to whatever nest they left? What will my thoughts be when my grandchildren are growing up 3,000 miles away from me. 

Therein lies the hight cost of raising a family. Never mind the financial obligations, which are huge today. What about the emotional costs like these? There is no stock broker, no financial analyst or counselor who can prepare you or save you from these events. 

Many years ago, in an age that still is romantic to me, men built castles and fought wars to protect their families and to insure that their name would carry on. The ambitious ones carved out large swaths of land for their childrens’ children to govern and to profit from one day. 

Today our castles are investment portfolios and real estate markets that fluctuate on a fossil fuel economy. 

Our profitable lands belong to global holding companies, and there is no longer thought given to succession. 

Today we push out kids from the nest and tell them to fly further, do better, build more, have bigger ideas and accomplish more than we did. 

They are flush with knowledge at their fingertips. There is more information available to them than to all the world combined before them. 

I cannot carve a life out for them with the strength of my sword. Like the sometimes cold and unfriendly animal kingdom, I can only let them go and hope they fly straight. I can pick them up from time to time when they fall, but I’ll mostly watch until they’re out of sight and wonder how they did. Much like my grandfather did, and much like my father probably does. 

They say the world’s longest journey is about 18 inches. It is the journey between a man’s mind and his heart. There are no maps, no lighted pathways and the only voice of guidance is often mistaken for our own. 

But it’s a journey every man who has ever breathed has taken on his own.