A Belated Holiday Post/Santa Isn’t Real

Hello. How have you been?

The above picture was taken during a Christmas walk. We try to walk every day, even days like today; frigid, never-over-freezing days. Christmas walks are particularly nice, because everyone is nice on Christmas, especially to kids.

We run an interfaith household over here. Emma and the girls are Jewish; I was raised Catholic, but all I’ve kept is the guilt. This means we do many Jewish holidays and also…..Christmas.

I’m a secular Christmas celebrator: it’s very much about getting the family together, very much about presents, very much about showering love (which is sort of like every day), and very much about Christmas music and movies.

We don’t do Santa, or Elf on the Shelf, or Christ.

We also do Hanukkah, so this is what our house looks like during the holiday season:

As I said, we don’t “do” Santa, and we’ve told Helena as such. Last year (2019) during the December holiday season, Helena told us that Santa visited her school, which was where she was going to daycare at the time. We reminded her that we “don’t do Santa” in our house.

We informed her that Santa isn’t real.

You may be aghast at this, particularly if you’re a Santa fiend. I don’t know, maybe you’re aghast at all of this. That’s fine. Personally, I think Santa is a creep, and I think his little helper, the “Elf on the Shelf”, is a little creep too.

Don’t go watching my kids while they’re sleeping, monitoring their behavior, and doling out appropriate rewards.

Don’t come falling down my chimney.

We don’t tell Helena all of those opinions. We just say that “we don’t do Santa” and keep it at that.

And the “not being real” thing. We do that too. Sorry.

But I’m sure there are some of you out there thinking about your own kids, who DO believe in Santa. What happens when they run into my kid, the one who says “My Mom and Dad told me Santa isn’t real”?

Because I’m sure that’s heartbreaking, right? To lay that groundwork for your kid to believe that some jolly man watches them constantly, even while they sleep, culminating in a home invasion via chimney. He eats your cookies and leaves a bunch of gifts that YOU worked hard to buy under your tree. The lengths you have to go to in order to keep up the façade: repositioning that damn elf every day, guiding them through the cognitive dissonance that both you and Santa are responsible not only for the gifts, but for gauging the appropriateness of their behavior.

“Hey, who’s sober and crazy enough to break out the ladder and the bells and go stomping up on the roof this year?”

And then for little Pre-K Helena to come in, always sure of her opinions, and just lay it out there: He’s NOT REAL.

I’m making it sound worse than it really is. I’m sure you can handle it at home. Also, you have a whole popular culture to back you up, so there’s that.

This past year (2020) Helena started Pre-K and is in a different school. They talk about all the December holidays and make decorations to take home for each. So she painted a Christmas tree. She made a Star of David out of popsicle sticks. She made a Kinara. We continued to talk about “not doing Santa”.

One day, before Christmas, we’re at our dining room table after I pick Helena up from school. She’s working on a drawing and talking about Santa. Santa’s a hot topic nowadays. I remind her of Santa’s lack of existence, just so we’re clear on that.

“But Dad,” she says, still working on her drawing. “My classmate told me something.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that, kiddo?”

She looks up from her drawing; looks me in the eye, and whispers, a secret thing – “Dad, Santa is REAL. My classmate told me so. He SAW him.”

I have to admit: I didn’t prepare for this. I figured, get it out of the way, tell her the truth, and be done with it. I truly, truly, did not expect her to catch us in the lie.

And then this little punk comes and ruins it for her.

It was only a matter of time before someone broke it to her, that awful, first heartbreak of childhood: your parents have been lying about Santa this whole time.

He is real.

“Kiddo, there are kids who do Santa at their house, but he’s not real, and we don’t do Santa at our house.” I use “understanding but authoritative” voice. I understand and respect these Santa-loving households, but I’m the leading authority in the house on whether or not he’s real.

I have, after all, been there.

She doesn’t really pause at all. She just continues with her drawing, and without looking up, says:

“Well Dad, I do Santa.”

You know, as a parent, I never really need to be reminded that my kid is my kid. And besides the obvious genetic markers, this one just runs away with my oddball sense of humor, intermittent moodiness, and….what’s the word……..incalcitrance?

But then sometimes, she goes ahead and shows it off anyway.

I wasn’t sure how to argue with that. Mostly because doing so would be contrary to my whole approach as a parent. Kid decided on her own that “she does Santa.” I can respect that.

So I let it go.

Hope you all had an enjoyable holiday season, whatever you do or don’t do at your house.

Until next time.

M

Fatherhood in the Time of Coronavirus: Part 2

Every weekday morning I pick up my phone and fill out the form that determines if our older daughter is suitable for school.

The form consists of 6 yes/no questions, each designed to determine our potential exposure to COVID-19. If you’ve been to a doctor’s office anytime in the past 6 months, or if you need to fill out a COVID screener to enter work, you may be familiar with these questions.

If we answer “no” to all of the questions, nothing happens. Helena goes to school.

If we answer “yes” to any question, I get a screen with red lettering instead of black, informing me that she can’t go to school. Then, typically within minutes, I get a phone call from a nurse with the school district, asking about our daughter’s symptoms and providing the guidance necessary to move forward.

The other day, I answered “yes”, because Helena had a stuffy nose.

Yes.

If a child has a stuffy nose the parent has two options.

The first option is to keep the child home for 10 school days, after which the kiddo can return to school if they are symptom-free for the entirety of their time home.

The second option is to go and get your kid tested for COVID.

After that, stay in regular communication with the school while you wait for the result. You may want to notify anyone you’ve been in close contact with over the preceding days. It’s not stressful at all.

The COVID test for kids is the same as the one for adults. They stick a Q-Tip looking thing up their nostril and spin it around for a while. It feels like someone is trying, and succeeding, to tickle your brain.

In my experience, it doesn’t hurt, but why would you want someone to tickle your brain?

Do you think your kid wants their brain tickled?

They do not.

I had heard that there is another type of test for kiddos, either currently existing or in production, which does not require brain tickling and instead tests saliva. This option was not readily available in our area, per our pediatrician. I’ll have to look deeper into that, because there are going to be additional stuffy noses in the future.

There are always additional stuffy noses.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that young children have around 8 respiratory illnesses (or “colds”) every year, on average. Most of these will occur during the school year, particularly in the late autumn and throughout the winter. The reasons for this are obvious; kids are little germ magnets, and when you put a bunch of germ magnets together, they all get stuffy noses.

And every time there’s a stuffy nose, we have to report it to the school.

Our older daughter is 4. She woke up in the middle of the night, crying because she couldn’t breath properly from congestion. We knew we had to keep her home from school. Getting the COVID test was an easy decision; we had recently seen family members and felt an obligation to keep them informed. Also, the school required one if she was going to go back.

I call the pediatrician’s office and they provide us with the number to schedule the test. I call the testing center and explain that I have two kiddos with me, one who needs a test, and ask how the visit works. I’m not sure if I’ll need to bring the whole family into the COVID testing center. The center staff is very understanding, and they offer to do the test in the parking lot; they’ll come to the car. It’s a small courtesy, but also a major relief – I have no interest in bringing two kiddos, one who needs her brain tickled, and the other a walking embodiment of curiosity and destruction, into a COVID testing center. Certainly not by myself; I’m outnumbered.

I get off of the phone and Helena is sitting on the couch, looking serene but sniffly. She overheard part of the phone call and asks if we’re going to the doctor today.

This’ll be good.

For you people out there in the world: I’m sure you’ve wondered how and when to give news that may not be received well. You know, some instance in which you had to tell somebody an important thing for them to know, but you also had enough time to consider how you wanted to deliver the news. Depending on the person receiving the news, maybe you changed your tone of voice; made it sound very kind, or very excited, or maybe downplayed what happened/is about to happen to make it sound like no big deal. Minute calculations which maybe spared both of you some of the pain/discomfort/annoyance of the information being given and received.

With those calculations completed in my brain, I tell Helena that we are going to the doctor today. She’s fine with it. That was easy! Good job, Dad!

I decide to wait until we’re en route to the appointment to tell her that the doctor is going to put something up her nose and that it’s going to tickle a little. I tell her that I’ll be with her the whole time and that it’s no big deal. I use “matter of fact” voice; I’m downplaying like a champion, because I’m a smart guy.

Certainly smarter than a toddler, right?

The answer is closest to option 2.

You know, I tried. Parents; we try all the time. We set out to paint a picture of the world that is simultaneously based in reality and also some idealized version of events; even if this uncomfortable/bad thing happens, it’s temporary. We try to prepare our kids for what may happen, but also let them know that it’s going to be OK. Short of achieving those goals, we try to coach them to get through it. And in doing this for our kids, we do it for ourselves, too.

We get to the parking lot, and the scary nurse comes out in his scary mask, holding his scary tube and offering reassurances that, yes, this is going to go up your nose, but it will only tickle for a little while. She lets him get one nostril before she’s savvy to the game, then she starts jerking around for each subsequent attempt. The nurse makes a few valiant advances, looking at me helplessly. I look at him, equally helplessly. I’m not sure if there’s a way to get into the back of the car and soothe her at this point. There are two car seats back there; I have no entry point. Also, I know my kid, and she is not exactly open to soothing if she doesn’t want to do something. I settle on holding her hand, which she jerks away the next time the nurse makes a move. He looks at me like “hey Dad, I’m trying”, but I’m not really the one who needs consoling at this point.

Or wait, am I?

Short of climbing into the backseat and holding her down for the test, which I’m not going to do, whatever he was able to get is going to have to be good enough.

The nurse and I convey all of the above to each other with our eyes only, above our respective masks. I’ve gotten pretty good at looking at people. He says “that’s good enough”. I say “Are you sure you have what you need?” He says “yup, that’ll be good”.

And then it’s over. Now we wait the 1-2 business days to get our results which, in this case, is over the weekend.

She tests negative.

This is the first stuffy nose of the season.

The CDC also states that COVID-19 has no symptoms which can be used to differentiate it from several other conditions, including the common cold, the “regular” flu, or any number of chronic conditions such as asthma or allergies. For chronic conditions, the advice is to monitor your child’s symptoms for any signs of exacerbation; “my kid has asthma but now it’s worse”.

Per the CDC’s updated guidance on school reopenings (effective 10/21/20):

“Because symptom screenings will likely identify individuals who have symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19 and, at times, unrelated to any infectious illness, students may be inappropriately excluded from school, which may cause unintended harm. It is because of these limitations that CDC does not currently recommend that universal symptom screenings be conducted at schools.”

Instead, the CDC recommends that “Parents or caregivers should be strongly encouraged to monitor their children for signs of infectious illness every day. Students who are sick should not attend school in-person.”

Because ultimately, you know your kid, and now you’re also responsible for saving the world.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me here and start thinking that I don’t agree with all of the protocol and recommendations. Of course our kids should be safe. Of course we have a social commitment to keep each other as safe as we can. If you’re reading this and you know me, you know that I hold these values. If you don’t know me, I’m telling you this now. The policies are in place to keep us safe, and they are totally reasonable, given the threat we continue to face.

At the same time, a disproportionate amount of the responsibility for keeping our communities safe has been saddled on parents of school-age children and/or adult caregivers. Many parents have been faced with choosing whether they can have a job or send their kids to school. Emma and I have friends who are working full time, either in the field or at home, while also parenting full time, and making sure their kids attend virtual school. We have other friends who have chosen to send their kids to school in-person and are just waiting for the first stuffy nose to send their household into anarchy. For members of the sandwich generation, “the pandemic has forced [them] to make near-constant, stressful decisions about how to safely care for their own young children with schools and day care facilities closed, while also trying to reduce health risks for elderly parents and grandparents”. What was once called work/life balance is now just called “balance.” Or “stumbling.”

With no federal COVID relief forthcoming, and limited state-driven policies offering guidance for employers, and protection for employees, as they navigate COVID-infested waters, employers have enacted family leave polices on their own. However, thorny questions arise about whether parents are entitled to additional time off, or special accommodation, based solely on their status as parents. Without significant legislation to back up working families for COVID-specific issues, companies risk sacrificing employee good will and are likely leaving themselves open to lawsuits if they do not establish clear policies and procedures regarding COVID family leave, and enforce them fairly.

If we can even gauge what is “fair” in this environment.

Women have been particularly impacted in the post-COVID economy; in September of 2020, 865,000 women left the workforce in America – 4 times more than men. Some are forced out through layoffs; others are succumbing to the stress of working while also taking on the brunt of caregiver work.

Emma and I have been very lucky/privileged in a lot of ways. Once it was determined that Emma was an “essential worker”, I left my job to watch the girls. This has helped us avoid the stress of navigating daycare for Ori, who has a permanently stuffy nose during the winter. We also don’t have to worry about care for Helena after she gets out of school, which is only a half-day. Our parents are also healthy and able to take care of themselves, and so we have avoided the plight of the sandwich generation. Even when stuffy noses happen, we are lucky that Dad can be home and take care of the COVID test, communicate with the teachers and nurses, and make sure nap time happens.

But if it were all the same, wouldn’t we rather not have to do that?

Not long ago, we were thinking that we’d look back on this time as a blip; something we remember but our kids won’t have to be burdened with. There is new evidence that antibodies fall rapidly after a COVID infection, potentially leaving people at risk of catching the virus multiple times. We have a government who keeps saying we’re “turning the corner” on coronavirus, yet their policy seems to hinge on developing a herd immunity which may never come. In the meantime, we’ve developed systems for kids to go back to school, or for adults to go back to work, that have been developed as stop-gap measures. They rely on the assumption that COVID will go away, some day. But what will it take to make that happen?

All to ask, if this thing is going to go on for the foreseeable future, at what point do we demand either a more aggressive response to the virus, or a complete overhaul of our existing institutions; one that takes into account the lived realities of people who have been limping by, hoping there is an end in sight? Or are we all just waiting for “the vaccine”?

I ask because getting a COVID test for a stuffy nose isn’t “normal.” It just isn’t, and parents know that. Kids know that. And people are going to start keeping their kids out of school rather than going to get a COVID test every time a cold happens. Unless, of course, we’ve all become OK with the “new normal” and I’m just lagging behind. I’ve been guilty of lagging behind before. I think I’m justified, however, in wanting to live in a world where my kid can go to school and be spared the physical discomfort. And I can be spared the fear.

M

Red Letter Days/Cold Rainy Days

I think we’re all happy about something different here.

Every day, during dinner, we talk about the best part of our day.

We very intentionally started this practice when our older daughter was much younger and refused to respond to any question with anything other than a defensive “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” We wanted to normalize talking about our feelings and asking questions of each other. It’s also just….nice to do. What follows is a typical “What was the best part of your day?” conversation:

Dad, starting things off: “Sooooooo, what was the best part of everybody’s day?”

Dad uses a tone that, when he first started trying it, he intended to be a mockery of “dad talk”; a mixture of goofiness and encouragement. This tone has since become a way he actually talks. He wonders if this happens for all dads, or if he just really bought into it.

Dad looks at older daughter, who has predicted this question is coming. Quite an easy prediction, it turns out, as the same thing happens every day.

Older daughter, deflecting : “What was the best part of your day, [ENTER]: Mom/Dad?”

The appropriate parent answers the question, and then asks older daughter what the best part of her day was.

Older daughter, deflecting: “What was the best part of your day [ENTER]: other parent?”

The appropriate parent answers the question, and begins asking older daughter once again what the best part of her day was, only to be interrupted by….

Older daughter: What was the best part of your day, kid sister?

Kid Sister, eating: “Mumph mamph muh. Bom mamph bo muh. Uhhhhhh. Uhhhhhhh!” (Reaching plaintively now).

Mom: “Younger daughter, say what you want.”

Younger daughter: “More.”

Mom, enthusiastically: “More! Yes, you can have more.”

Younger daughter offers an accomplished grin, continues eating.

Older daughter: “Her favorite part of the day is dinner! The best part of my day was…” [ENTER]: one of the answers already given by a parent OR “going to school.”

End scene.

Talking about the best part of our days is often, fittingly, one of the best parts of my day. Helena’s grown into it; her initial hesitancy has given way to a controlled participation. She’ll contribute, but she wants to direct the flow. Sometimes, on particularly good days, she dives in and initiates.

The conversation is especially nice for me nowadays, when my days have started to blend together. I don’t really object to this; we’ve gone through so many transitions lately that I’m glad to settle into some sort of rhythm. Still, I want that rhythm to have enough variety that I can differentiate Monday from Thursday. I want to be able to report in during dinner time; to have a “best part of my day.”

We should all have that.

Red Letter Days

We’ve been lucky to recently have a string of what we call “Red Letter Days”; days where so much good happened, it’s hard to pick out the best part. I think we took the phrase from Emma’s mom. Sometimes, when something really great happens, Helena will say “Wow, what a Red Letter Day!” It’s delightful.

“Red Letter Days” typically happen on the weekends, when we’re all together. Here are some scenes from recent Red Letter Days:

Photo Credit: Emma
Also taken by Emma
Also Emma

The recipe for a Red Letter Day is, so far, very simple:

Good Thing Happens + The girls’ grandparents are involved + Another good thing happens = RED LETTER DAY!

Here’s an example:

We go to the park and run into one of Helena’s friends! + Emma’s parents come over! + We all go for a hike! = RED LETTER DAY!

Or this one:

We go apple picking with my brother and his family! + My mom comes over! + We put up Halloween decorations! = RED LETTER DAYYYY!!!!!

On a Red Letter Day, we don’t need to press the conversation forward during dinner; we all dive in, happily listing off all of the good. “Whoops, we almost forgot that other good thing! What about you, kiddo? That’s at least 5 good things!”

On a Red Letter Day, after dinner and putting the girls to bed, Mom and Dad talk even more about how good the day was. We do this instead of diving straight into our customary game of “who falls asleep on the couch first?”

We still play the game, we just put it off for a bit.

Rainy Days

I don’t want you to think this is the downer part, because it’s not. It has a happy ending.

I’m also not changing tone for dramatic effect. I wouldn’t do that to us.

It’s just that Red Letter Days, like anything special, are designated as such because they are the outliers. We’ve been able to cram a bunch of them in recently, because we know the recipe and we have the motivation to do so. The motivation comes from staring down the barrel of the cold-weather seasons here in New York.

We know what’s coming. The other 6 months of the year. We are grasping for as many days outdoors as we can get before we settle into late autumn and winter, where much is left to be settled in terms of how we’ll be living our lives.

A few months ago, we lived outside on the weekends. The girls couldn’t get enough of the park, or the swing set, or BUBBLES!

Pop!

We felt safe enough at the local pool, a place tucked away behind a building that looks vacant, its parking lot a patch of grass that never fades, so few people know about it. We’d have our friends over, or Helena’s friends over, or our families over, always outside. We didn’t have to enter into careful negotiations; no bubbles, no pods, either because we didn’t know how to broach the subject or because we really didn’t care to. We’re outside! We’re safe, so long as we’re outside!

But now, the cold has started to push us indoors. The sun dips behind a cloud and the day has passed. As I write this, it’s a cold, rainy day, and Oriana and I have been stuck in the house. The day’s event? Watching the city cut down a tree near our yard, broken during a recent wind storm. On the porch, Ori brings me the same book, over and over: Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday! is one of those 5-page Baby Einstein board books that I’m sure serve no actual purpose in terms of childhood development. I’ll read this and I Love You, Stinky Face 30 times today. “What did monkey get? A banana!” Oh, it’s always banana!

Ori and monkey both love bananas. She beams, a wide, toothy grin. I announce the end of the book, as I always do. She takes it out of my hands, regards it for a moment, then flips it back into my lap, as she always does.

“Do you want me to read this book to you?”

“Uyuuuh.”

“Ok. This one is called Happy Birthday!”….

We read Happy Birthday! 6 of its designated 20 times and then go inside. I text Emma about how the tree situation turned out, and the day’s excitement, such as it was, winds down. Indoors, I allow myself to wonder-worry on this claustrophobic day. What will Friday nights turn into? They’ve already shortened, now that, when the backyard fire dies down, everyone starts to realize: “it got cold out”. What about the holidays, which were never a gamble before? Not anymore! Want to roll the dice on COVID?

Trick or Treat!? COVID!

Who should I try to see before they determine they’re not seeing anyone at all for the next 5 months? Recently, we bought an air filtration system, hoping to accommodate some type of indoor company. Will we use it?

We’ve started talking about taking up skiing and teaching Helena. Anything that is outside would be safe, yeah? I’ve never skied a day in my life, but what the hell, I’ll break a leg if I can do it with other people. We’re greedy for the outdoors even now.

When the future is uncertain, we take what we can, and as much of it as we can carry.

I put Ori down for her nap and decide I’ll turn my thoughts into this post, which I hope proves more productive than idly ruminating. You’ll be happy to know that it’s helpful.

Welcome to meta-Matt.

I write until I get to the part about Ori and me being outside before it’s time to go and pick up Helena. I have to pluck Ori out of her crib, still half-asleep and all “why are you doiiing thisss to meeeeeeeeee?” as I carry her through the rain to the car. I briefly wonder if there was ever any potential for today to be a Red Letter Day. I wonder if this is like cooking, and I forgot one of the ingredients, like that time I made “Dad’s Signature Poop Chicken” but without any salt (we’ll save that for another post). I decide it’s better to tell myself that “not every day has to be a Red Letter Day”. In doing so, I feel not one bit like Buddha.

We get in the car and I put on a playlist that I made a few years ago, one that’s really stood the test of time. It makes me feel a little better, because music always does. We arrive at the school and I hop out, joining the other wet parents, everyone with an umbrella because they don’t want wet kids. What do we talk about? The weather, silly. This, along with my brief interaction with a city employee about tree maintenance and removal, will be the majority of my adult conversation for the day. This isn’t as sad as you may think by reading it; I enjoy my own company.

On the ride home, we talk about Helena’s day at school. She usually needs a bit of time to decompress, so we do a quick check-in and then listen to the music. A happy memory of a song comes on. I think about how I found it, watching the most triumphant part of Twin Peaks: The Return, a series otherwise entirely devoid of “triumphant” feeling. (It’s from the episode when Dale Cooper finally “returns”, we’re led to believe). I think about the time that we played the song loud in the house and I banged along to the drum section on a conga; the girls running around wildly. It’s a nice place to be lost for a minute or two.

Soon we’re close to home; too close to finish the song. Bummer, it was a nice visit. In the driveway, I motion to turn the car off.

“Dad! Dad!” Helena has an urgent matter.

“What’s up, kid?”

“Keep the song on, I want to hear the rest.”

“You bet, I was hoping the same thing.”

We finish the song, exactly what I need. Thanks, kiddo!

I put Ori in the house first. She wants to stay outside, but I offer some fatherly advice on the importance of staying warm and dry to my 18-month old. I can tell she appreciates it. I go back out to the car to retrieve Helena’s bookbag, because she’s a big kid now and requires such things.

I turn back toward the house and, through the glass storm door, I see Oriana. She’s still in the pajamas that I haven’t changed her out of today, because…..why? I get closer and, opening the door, I see that she’s put on her sister’s old rain boots. She’s ready to go outside. In her hand she carries a book: Happy Birthday! She holds it up to me.

“You want me to read that book to you?”

“Uyuuuh!” She grins.

And just like that, I know what part of my day I’ll talk about during dinner tonight.

M

Here is the song, for those who are interested:

Fatherhood in the Time of Coronavirus

This is me:

Should have cut my hair that day.

That’s the photo that I’ve used for employee ID badges. They say “use a blank background,” and I’m a stickler for clear and concise instruction.

This is also me:

When you’re hiking you can use any background.

I’m the tallest one, in the middle. There’s also a couple of kiddos in there. You should probably know who they are. Here’s an introduction.

This is Oriana. She is 18 months old and loves cake.

Nom nom nom!

This is her sister, Helena. She is 4 and loves flowers.

She also loves cake.

This is Emma. I won’t tell you how old Emma is. Emma loves Oriana, Helena, and me. We are married. Here is Emma with Oriana:

This is all of us during the winter of ’19-’20:

Dad takes the group selfies.

Now we are acquainted.

“Fatherhood”

I started this website to talk about fatherhood, which I categorize as separate from “parenthood”. Here’s how I’m separating them out in my mind:

  • Fatherhood – the singular pursuit of being a father, trying to be a good dad, figuring out who I am while figuring out what’s expected of me by my growing family. The role that gender plays in my experience of parenting, both within my household and out there in the world. “Me” stuff; how I relate to the world.
  • Parenthood – The process of co-parenting with another person. Joint decision-making. Communicating with one’s partner. Couple stuff.

I know that these are not textbook or inclusive definitions, but they are the definitions I’m using for a specific purpose: to draw a boundary between how I as a person move through the world and how Emma and I move together. This way you’ll know what to expect from the blog. I’ll be focusing on the “me” stuff here.

I’m a stay-at-home dad! I’ve worked and reworked this post several times before going live with the site, so at this point I’ve been home with the girls for a bit over a month. I had been thinking about staying at home, as a concept, since immediately after Helena was born 4 years ago. In the meantime, I began and completed a Masters in Social Welfare (MSW). I’ve been in the social work/human services field for about 12 years, predominantly in homeless and housing services. Recently, something happened which really pushed us toward the idea of me staying at home, though for the life of me I can’t remember what is was…

…in the time of coronavirus.

“Oh yeah, Coronavirus! You mean the thing that’s upended everything about our lives, has turned every decision into a bad decision, has made it impossible to plan anything further out than say, a week? You want to talk about THAT?”

No, not really, but it’s here, and I need an outlet, so I figured we’d give it a go. I mean, I started a whole website just to be able to sort my thoughts, capture this time in my life, and share it with you; maybe get some things off my chest, potentially spark a human connection in one of the few ways that is both safe and available to me, but…..yeah, I guess I want to talk about it. Would you like to talk about it?

“Sure. Go on.” (I’ll pretend that’s you).

Here’s a timeline for you:

  • March 2019 – Oriana is born. Everyone is here! This is us, this is our family!
  • May 2019 – I complete my Masters in Social Welfare. The timing works out so that Emma can go back to work and I can stay home with Oriana until a spot opens up for Ori at Helena’s daycare in July. I’m unemployed but have a job lined up for when Oriana starts “school”. Note – I’ll detail my work experience and how it relates to my experience as a father in another post.
  • July-December 2019 – Emma and I are balancing work and kids and life is, essentially, “normal”. We can talk about what “normal” looked like later.
  • December 2019-February 2020 – Somebody in our house is always sick. It’s usually Oriana or me. I’ve burned through all of my sick time at work and we’re relying on our parents to watch Ori every time she is sent home from daycare. We think she’s just teething, but she’s also had a permanently stuffy nose. She’s had three fever episodes over the winter. I myself have had two fevers this season, which is two fevers more than I usually get. I’m not liking my job so I start looking for a new one. I line one up with a late March start date.
  • March 2020 – Uh oh.

I think the worst part of the initial stages of the shutdown, for me, was Oriana’s first birthday. Ori’s birthday coincided with the very beginning of the shutdown in New York, when all of our relatives were scrambling to learn how to use Zoom so that we could actually see human faces. We had an “online” birthday party. We didn’t yet know how the virus affects children (fast forward – we still don’t) and I think I was just….scared? Feeling scared at a one-year-old’s online birthday party, for those who haven’t experienced it, is bizarre and not recommended. But there we were, doing it together.

Let’s get back to the timeline:

  • Late March 2020- The aforementioned scary baby party. I start the new job and begin training remotely. Emma and I are both working full time and the girls have both been pulled from daycare. We haven’t seen anyone at all, with the exception of our neighbors when we go on our daily walk around our neighborhood. I call to check in on my mom daily. We watch a video of a doctor cleaning his groceries before he brings them into his house. Have you seen the video?

Well, now we’re alarmed. We wonder how we’ll be able to treat our groceries as though they’re “covered in glitter” and clean them as thoroughly as this guy when we have two small kids in the house. I’ll later read an article by Rachel Fairbank in Lifehacker where the author amusingly accuses the doctor of “sanitizing his groceries with extreme prejudice”. It makes me feel a bit better. Here a link to the article:

https://vitals.lifehacker.com/you-dont-need-to-sanitize-your-groceries-1842528397

April 2020 – We continue to work full time. My uncle passes away and I’m scared to go to his wake and funeral. Really, I’m scared to go anywhere. Emma stays home with the girls and I make the hour-long drive and wait outside the funeral home, thinking I can meet my family in the open air at the cemetery. I need to use the bathroom but I don’t want to go into the funeral home, because “indoors” is scary, and “public bathroom” is scary, and “one-year-old online birthday parties” are scary.

It’s just how things are now!

My uncle is being buried at the Saratoga National Veterans Cemetery and the funeral home is on one of the nicest streets in Saratoga, NY. There are mansions everywhere. So I find a Nalgene bottle and take care of it in the car. I’m doing great. My family is still in the funeral home and has been for some time. I wait a while longer, then a while longer. I make the decision to call my mom and tell her that I’m leaving for home; I’ve already been away for two hours. It’s then that I see my family start to exit the funeral home. Everyone looks so incredibly sad. I offer my condolences to my aunt, and tell them that I’m sorry I can’t stay longer, and I share with them what we learned yesterday: Emma’s 90-year old grandmother caught it. I need to be at home.

At a veteran funeral, they typically play “Taps”, but they aren’t doing that right now. I wonder what grieving will look like in the future.

  • May-August 2020 – Emma’s grandmother beats COVID because if you can survive the Holocaust you can do anything. We continue to work full-time and parent full-time. Emma, who is an elementary school administrator, works daily to figure out how school even happens anymore. We open our world up a bit; we go to stores on occasion, we see our neighbors, we see our families and friends. We do all of this outdoors. Most importantly to me: we are able to have a small birthday party for Helena. She has a blast.
That’s right, kid, a goddamn UNICORN CAKE, plus ANOTHER cake. You rule! Thanks, Gramma!

This is, obviously, and abbreviated version of what all has gone on over the past year or so. We’ll dig into the specifics in the posts that follow.

As I mentioned before, Emma is a school administrator, and the determination has been made that elementary school will be conducted in-person in Upstate New York. We’ve been confronted with a choice: are we comfortable moving from how we’ve been living, with each of us working from home and keeping the girls home with us, to suddenly sending Emma to work and both girls to school/daycare? This is a choice that some of you who are reading this may have had to make. Maybe you’ve been confronted with similarly awful choices sometime over the past 6 months. For us, our choice is that I’ll leave work and stay home with the girls. We’ve decided that we’ll make a determination later on if we feel comfortable sending Helena in-person to Pre-K. We can talk more about how we came to this decision in later posts, but in the meantime, I welcome you into my adventures as a stay-at-home dad.

“Don’t. Touch. Anything.”

Until we pick up the thread again (and again, and again, and again).

M

Part 1: An Introduction

A word on starting a blog/website:

I don’t know what I’m doing! I’m here on my couch, up late like I always am, half-watching the U.S Open (tennis) and typing on my computer. It feels good to write, but I’m not sure what I’m going to put down. I do know that my intention is to start a website and to write on it.

I decided to start this site maybe a week ago (I’m writing this in very late August 2020) with the intention to document my time as a stay-at-home dad in a post-coronavirus world. Today was the end of my first day! I’d like to include what brought us/me to this point, how things are going, and to document my experience for posterity. Something I’ll get into later on is that I have an awful memory, and I hope that by writing things down that I’ll retain more of my life.

I’d also like to use this site to explore my own learning, meaning the process of learning as I try to build some new skills that maybe I should have had by now. Things like cooking, and painting, and starting to exercise and hopefully continuing to exercise. I’d like this to be about my own accountability to a certain extent, and also an evaluative process about how I learn, what I’m learning, and hopefully building on that toward sustainability and new skills.

This website will mostly be about writing (a skill that I have always possessed but would like to develop further). Meaning: I don’t intend to take a lot of videos or otherwise vlog. I reserve the right to change my mind if, for example, I attempt to broaden my skill set into creating videos. Even so, I would prefer to write about that experience for this site rather than having my process documented visually.

Most of what this site will include will be the aforementioned exploration of learning, parenting, and things I enjoy and hope to do more of. I tend to like to “deep-dive” things I like, whether it’s music I’ve recently discovered, shows I like to watch, or social issues such as homelessness, a cause I’ve been deeply involved in. So expect a bit writing on those topics.

A bit about the website title: I chose “Dad’s Greatest Hits” for a few reasons. First off, identity. At this point in my life I most strongly identify as a father (or Dad), so I wanted that in there. I also want this site to be read by my daughters at some future point, so I figured I’d title it as an address to them. The “Greatest Hits” part should by no means be read as “you’re only giving us the good parts”; there will be a lot of learning here. But I’ll come back to two things that preoccupy a lot of my time and mind: music and memory. I’ve made plenty a mix-tape/playlist in my day, so I wanted something which reflects that in the title. But I also just want something to look back on, to build something which reflects who I am, or who I was when I wrote this. Like any compilation, this may not amount to truly the greatest parts, but it may contribute to what I am remembered for. My Greatest Hits.

So this is the beginning.