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.
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.
Music: In Which Dad Embarks on an Epic Quest
To discover the best 3-song run on an album.
Hello! It’s Matt and I feel like writing again. I didn’t feel that way for about a week.
The first few posts I made on this site came easily enough. Some of it was stuff I had been waiting years to write down; I just needed an excuse. So I conjured one up: I’ll start a website. I hope some of you are enjoying it well enough.
I’m the type of person who, without a decent amount of vigilance on my part, can get pulled into distraction mode late at night. Instead of writing, or reading the book I said I would (I’m working on Something Wicked This Way Comes), I’ll watch Netflix or stupid videos. Lately, I’ve been watching the British television show Taskmaster , full episodes of which are available on YouTube. That’s easier to do than writing, and it’s a good distraction at the end of my day. Still, sometimes I’d prefer to write. I just need to prioritize it. So here I am, prioritizing it!
We’re going to talk about music again. If you’re open to a deep-dive into the minutiae I concern myself with, please read on. We can talk about cooking later.
Best 3-Song Run on an Album
I found an article on the AV Club a couple of years ago in which a few writers contribute their personal “Strongest 3-Song Run on an Album”. You can find that article by clicking here. The AV Club was originally the Audio/Visual (media) section of the Onion Newsletter, back when the Onion was available in print in most major U.S. cities. The AV Club then became its own standalone thing for a while, but has since merged, along with the Onion, into the G/O Media “Family”. Please take a look at the article, and do yourself a favor and check out the comments. The AV Club has long had a devoted/fanatical comment community. They are both very clever and very kind, so it’s a nice place to go if you’d like to avoid the general toxicity that exists on most sites these days.
Back to the task at hand. We’re going to be searching for the best 3-song run on various albums. I’ll be listening to albums both contemporary and classic and then reporting in on my findings. What is a 3-song run? Here are “the rules”:
- A 3-song run is 3 songs, in order, from a proper album. Songs must run sequentially, and instrumental interludes must be counted.
- Greatest Hits or other compilations are not albums.
- Some albums have had several versions, depending on geography (much of The Beatles’ catalog) or time (Rumours was re-released to include “Silver Springs”). One must specify which version of an album they are discussing.
- Each song must be great on its own merit. You get to decide what “great” is, and I get to agree or disagree, and vice versa. A good subjective metric for “great” is: would you skip the song if it popped up on the radio or shuffle, depending on your mood? Or would you listen to it pretty consistently? We’re looking for the latter.
- It’s not about “the flow”. It’s about the songs. We can talk about Dark Side of the Moon later.
- 3 songs is the max. I don’t want to hear about the Abbey Road suite, or “All of Kid A,” or “tracks 1-8 are really ONE song”. Sorry if that’s limiting, but you could always do your own list.
- Agreement and disagreement are equally appreciated here, and both are encouraged.
I originally intended this to be a single post, but I’ve decided to turn it into a series. This way you can keep pace with what I’m listening to and I’ll be able to look back someday and take stock for myself; see what I was up to.
If you’d like to comment with suggestions or opinions about your own personal 3-song runs or albums you think I should check out, please do. I have the site set up so that comments must be approved by me before they are seen publicly, which I know isn’t immediately gratifying, but I’ll monitor and approve them the same day. I promise to try to listen to any suggested music and to offer an opinion if you’d like.
I’ve been listening to Shore by Fleet Foxes since its release, which coincided with the 2020 autumn equinox. For those interested in various music delivery systems: I’m listening to the album via digital format, primarily over our Sonos home speakers or in my car. I’ve pre-ordered the vinyl release, which is set to ship in February of 2021.
Fleet Foxes are an indie folk-rock band who formed in Seattle in 2005. They’ve garnered praise for their vocal harmonies and evocative lyrics, and have been compared to some of the greats, including The Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They have released 4 LPs up to this point, with Shore being the latest. I’ll likely visit their self-titled debut sometime on this site, but for now, we have Shore. Here’s a sample:
This is about as “poppy” as Fleet Foxes get. It’s a good sound for them, and in some ways reminiscent of their debut album. The past two Fleet Foxes releases, Helplessness Blues and Crack-Up, veered heavily toward long track times (upwards of 8 minutes on a couple of songs) and more experimental qualities in their songwriting. This often resulted in numerous “movements” within songs, and earned the band a characterization by Pitchfork Media as “Prog Folk”, a genre mixing elements of progressive music (think Yes, Jethro Tull, or Boston) with traditional folk.
By comparison, the songs on Shore are compact, accessible, and straightforward, leaving one to wonder if the band can just conjure up a pop hit whenever they want. I wouldn’t attempt to take away from what the band accomplished on their prior two releases, but I will admit that I’m a candy-addict sometimes when it comes to music. I want to bop around while I’m cleaning the house, or maybe have something to hit the accelerator to. Shore offers that, and in spades. The first 8 tracks or so are all really great, but, for your consideration, I offer tracks 2-4 for a strong 3-song run. It includes “Sunblind”, which I’ve posted above, followed by “Can I Believe You”, which you can listen to here:
And lastly, “Jara”, which is my new favorite Fleet Foxes song:
“Jara” is a song which is great, in part, because of how it rebels against the format typified by the band’s two previous releases. I’ll direct you to the timestamp of 2:08 in the video above for a good example of this. The second the first chorus ends, the song just picks back up where it left off, and actually picks up steam. Whereas in the past two Fleet Foxes albums, this would be the part of the song that warranted a sudden tempo change, this song just stays the course and accelerates a bit. It’s a great choice, and the right one, too. This is a song which will stand the test of time, and I believe it will be a future classic.
Dad’s Rating for Fleet Foxes, Shore; “Sunblind”/ “Can I Believe You”/ “Jara”
Strongest Song: “Jara” – It’s basically made of folk-sugar. That’s a thing.
Most Likely to be Skipped: “Can I Believe You”. It gets a bit repetitive. Still, it’s a strong track on a strong album, and sits in between two greats.
Best Album Track Not Included in the 3-Song Run: That’s a really difficult choice that I’ve forced myself into here; the album is truly excellent and has a lot to offer to a various different moods. I have no problem turning this album on and finding a song I want to listen to, regardless of what I’m doing. Forcing myself to choose something, I’d recommend “Maestranza”, a good night-drive song which sees the band veer close to the old comparisons to My Morning Jacket they had received earlier in their career.
If Dad Had to Choose a Slow Song: You’ll notice that I gravitate toward upbeat music whenever possible. This album has some truly magnificent slow songs, however, and I recommend both “A Long Way Past the Past” and “For a Week or Two”. I’m sure there’s even justification in putting these two together, along with “Featherweight” or “Maestranza”, for a competing 3-song run.
If Dad Could Re-sequence It: I’d move “Can I Believe You” one track back and offer the following 3-song run.
- “Wading in Waist-High Water”
Chances this 3-Song Run is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT): For now, low. The album is only a month old! We’ll have to see how it fits into the pantheon of all-time greats a bit later in life. For my money, however, I’d rank the first half of this album as the greatest of Fleet Foxes’ career, which I consider to be high praise. They had already reached great heights, and this release solidifies their legacy as a capital-G Great Band.
Join us next time when we get into a bit of trouble tackling Rumours by the other Fleet-band. Bring your opinions, would love to hear them! And remember, suggestions in the comment section. Until then!
Red Letter Days/Cold Rainy Days
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.”
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:
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.
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!
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?”
“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.
Here is the song, for those who are interested:
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Part 1: A Brief Forward
Autumn is here. Hold on, sorry…..
Autumn is here! It’s my favorite time of the year; always has been. Some of my favorite memories are from autumn. Let’s collect a few:
Here I am, under the apple tree in my grandparent’s backyard, raking leaves but not really wanting to. Some of these are for filling up a plastic bag in the shape of a pumpkin. You remember these? I’m not even sure they’re legal anymore, unless they are more biodegradable than I remember:
But not all of the leaves are for bagging. We rake a bunch into a huge pile and take turns jumping in. There’s a smell, something like nothing else, of lying in a pile of freshly fallen leaves. I sink in, close my eyes, and listen as they crunch under and shake around me. Other than this and the sound of my brother squealing as he takes another turn, it’s quiet for a few moments. Then I roll up and pop out, running away just to circle back and jump back in. We do this for as long as we’re allowed; it’s only after we’re exhausted from the fun that we realize that these leaves are, regretfully, also for bagging.
And now, years later, in middle school: I walk outside the back door of my school. There’s a small hill standing in front of me and I have my cleats in my hand. It’s an hour before my very first soccer match, and for a while, I am by myself. I’ll join my team in a few minutes, but for now, I slowly bend and start lacing my cleats on. There’s a buzz in the air, something electric; anticipation. I walk to the field alone, watching my shadow bounce alongside me on the hillside.
And this book, from when I was a kid. No, not Something Wicked This Way Comes, I didn’t read that until much later. This one:
The Ghost-Eye Tree is a 1985 children’s book written by John Archambault and Bill Martin, Jr. You may know Bill as the guy who wrote the Brown Bear series of books with Eric Carle. The Ghost-Eye Tree is really something special, though, and it all comes down to the illustrations by Ted Rand, which are absolutely fantastic for a children’s book.
The Ghost-Eye Tree scared the living shit out of me when I was a kid.
The plot is pretty simple. Two kids go out at night to run some errands, and they encounter the titular “Ghost-Eye Tree”, which justifiably scares them, because it’s a tree, at night time, with knots in the shape of eyes. I got a copy from the Scholastic Book Club because I thought ghosts were cool and I liked the cover. I couldn’t look away from the book. You know how people refer to things as “haunting”, but that word never really represents the feeling they are trying to describe? The Ghost-Eye Tree quite literally haunted me. I’d think about it all the time, but especially on trash night. I was old enough to be tasked with certain chores, and among them was taking out the trash. Our trash cans resided under a gigantic weeping willow tree, all the way on the other side of our property. I’d be lugging the garbage across the driveway, trying not to look at the weeping willow. I’d get under it and do a quick inspection for “ghost eyes”, whatever those are. Inevitably, I’d find one and hot-tail it back to the house.
You’ll be happy to know that it never caught me.
Maybe this is you: “Matt, how is that a good memory, and what does this all have to do with Something Wicked This Way Comes?”
It’s a good memory because The Ghost-Eye Tree was my introduction to something mysterious in the natural world; something just on the fringe between what the world truly allows and what our imaginations can make it be. It was dangerous. Not dangerous like a car crash, but dangerous like something unknowable and yet sitting right in front of you. Like how your favorite climbing tree could somehow eat you at night time. Dangerous like Halloween, when the streets that are so familiar during the daytime are now dark and twisted; you visit a neighbor and maybe hear their voice, but they no longer look like themselves. And you? You get to play along, too. It’s my favorite holiday.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a Halloween story that, for a very long time, I was scared to read. Not scared in the literal sense; I had grown up quite a bit in between discovering The Ghost-Eye Tree and gaining an awareness of Something Wicked, so there was no fear that I’d be scared of the dark again if I read it. Yet that seemed to be the exact problem. I was scared of the possibility of disappointment. I wanted to be impacted to the degree that Archambault and Martin’s book had stirred something in me. I was afraid that, as an adult, this would be impossible. Yet there was something about that title, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which filled my imagination and left me curious.
I talked with a friend of mine about my relationship to the book I had never read. She said she had read it, it was excellent, I should read it, and she would find me a copy. And then she did.
I read Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time last year, and made a promise to myself that I would read it again this year, just before Halloween. My copy of the book has 54 chapters, an introduction, and A Brief Afterword, so I’ll be reading about 2 chapters a day until Halloween. If you’d like to read along with me, please do. Also, I’d love to hear about any special autumnal memories you have, any thoughts on these books or others, or any Halloween stories in the comments! I’ll be writing about the first few chapters soon. See you then!
Dad’s All-Time Favorite Song
Part 1: The Favorite Song of My Youth
Here we are, the inaugural post on my “Media” section of this site. This space will be used to talk about music, television, movies and other stuff I come across and want to talk about. It’s obviously been difficult to get together with people post-COVID. Those times that we’d have people over and put on music or watch a television show were already growing further apart now that we negotiate bed time for two kiddos. I really miss impromptu conversations of mutual appreciation, so please feel free to contribute in the comments!
I have a few posts in mind for the coming weeks/months/when I can actually get around to it. Expect a listening session with The Radio Dept., a band I recently discovered and am really enjoying this autumn. I’ll be focusing heavily on their album “Clinging to a Scheme” (2010), but I’ll also touch on some of their stronger B-sides and one-off singles that aren’t featured on any of their “proper” albums. I’ll also be asking for, and responding to, input on an upcoming topic: best 3-track “run” on an album. More to come on that later. For this first post, I’d like to share with you my favorite song, why it’s my favorite, and why it will always be my favorite.
A couple of housekeeping things before we dive in:
I’m not trying to sell you on this song. I’m just sharing a couple of stories with you. You’re allowed to dislike the song.
This is not a story about the “Greatest” song of all time. There’s a lot of all-time, by-the-decade, and yearly lists out there. This is not that. My favorite song is not the greatest song of all time. It’s my greatest song of all time.
Before we get to my actual song, I’d like to tell you about the runner up, because I like the story and figured I’d tell it. My very first favorite song was “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. “In the Air Tonight” was a single from Phil’s 1981 debut album Face Value. This detail is important.
If you’ve never heard the song before, you can try this video:
Or you can try the official music video:
“In the Air Tonight” firmly held the position of Dad’s Favorite Song of All Time back when I was a kid and had only heard 100 songs. I remember being introduced to it while someone in my family watched a Miami Vice rerun. Do you remember how strongly “In the Air Tonight” used to be associated with Miami Vice? Phil Collins may be having a resurgence now, but he was not cool when I was a kid. With that said, tell me this isn’t cool:
Now that’s a mood. The long establishing shots tell you everything you need to know about the stakes at hand. Lots of sexy car. Lots of staring into the long, dark night of the soul. Then the gun comes out. “How much time we got?” says a young, great-looking Don Johnson. “25 minutes,” replies the triple-first-named Philip Michael Thomas. Who even cares where they’re going or what they’re doing? I sure don’t remember. I just know they looked awesome. A young me wished he would ever be this cool. I still wish I could ever be this cool. Phil Collins wishes he was this cool. “In the Air Tonight” was the soundtrack to this mood, and that mood was what I thought adulthood would be like. Driving around at night in sexy cars, looking great, seeking out a bit of danger. Adults had it made. I was probably 10 at the time.
Not much later, I received my first CD Walkman as a gift. You remember those, the kind that you had to hold just so, or else the CD would skip all over the place? I had heard you could skip an entire track just by pushing a button! I got one of those. It was glorious. But I didn’t have any CDs to play in the damn thing, because nobody in my house owned any. So what should I get for my very first CD?
I know! A Phil Collins album! Then I can listen to my favorite song whenever I want! Brilliant! I could also listen to his other song I like, “Another Day in Paradise”! (Side note: it was much later that I realized “Another Day in Paradise” addresses the issue of homelessness, a field that I worked in for several years).
A few words about music delivery systems for you kids out there. Right now, you likely have something in your pocket that can play any song you want, whenever you want. I’m very happy for you. I also have one of those. When I was a kid, however, I had a CD Walkman. A CD Walkman only played one CD at a time, and that CD had a limited amount of tracks on it. You’re welcome for this history lesson.
For the holidays that year, I knew that I wanted to be able to listen to my favorite song whenever I wanted. Toward that purpose, I asked for this exact thing: “A Phil Collins CD”.
And what did I receive? Exactly that!
No Jacket Required is the third solo album by Phil Collins. It was released in 1985. It features the hits “One More Night”, “Sussudio”, “Don’t Lose My Number”, and “Take Me Home”. I opened it feverishly, unable to wait a moment longer to hear my favorite song “whenever I wanted”, which in this case, was RIGHT NOW. I scanned through the tracks, skipping each one until I heard the opening drones of “In the Air Tonight”, waiting to be magically transported to a super cool car under my new identity as Don Johnson’s wingman.
Of course that never happened, because as you know, “In the Air Tonight” was featured on Face Value, and not on No Jacket Required. It was in this moment, and the several conversations I had with my mom afterward, that I learned a terrible truth: not every CD by an artist features all of their greatest songs. It was a hard way to learn what an “album” is. I continued to learn that lesson when I bought both of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits compilations, Early Days and Latter Days, only to discover neither featured “Dyer Maker” or “Fool in the Rain”. Don’t they realize what their best songs are?
I never bothered getting a copy of Face Value, or even a Phil Collins Greatest Hits CD. “In the Air Tonight” was so ubiquitous that I never had to worry about finding it on the radio. I put it on a few mixtapes. I learned to like some of the songs on No Jacket Required. I remember listening to “One More Night” over the course of a particularly hot summer, really feeling my feelings as a 12 year old. My love for “In the Air Tonight” waned a bit over the years, but I’ll still listen to it if it pops up; I have it on my No-Skip list. And if it comes on during a night drive, I turn it up, always keeping my phone close, in case Don Johnson calls.
But you didn’t come here to hear about a song that used to be my favorite, did you? Click the 2 below to continue on to “Dad’s Favorite Song of All Time.”
Fatherhood in the Time of Coronavirus
This is me:
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:
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.
This is her sister, Helena. She is 4 and loves flowers.
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:
Now we are acquainted.
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:
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.
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.
Until we pick up the thread again (and again, and again, and again).
My First Meal/”Recipes for Dads”
“My First Meal.” Sort of sounds like “The Last Supper,” which……. maybe it will be? We’ll see if my family continues to eat my cooking.
I started this website during a time of heavy transition. I’ll go into the details of how COVID-19 has upended our lives in a different post, but one of the “good” things that has come out of the global pandemic is that I’ve recommitted to doing things I’ve always liked, and to learning things I likely already should have known. One of those things is cooking!
I’ve cooked things. I’ve definitely put a few things into a pan before, mixed it together and called it a meal. But I’m not a “good cook” by any stretch of the imagination, and I tend to avoid cooking at all costs. The idea of cooking, I’ve discovered over the past few years, actually fills me with a sort of dread. “Will it taste good?” “Will anyone else like it?” And worst of all, the feeling of being confronted with a pretty simple fact while in the middle of cooking any meal: “I don’t know what I’m doing and this is quickly turning into a disaster!” It’s some weird form of performance anxiety, and I’m determined to come to terms with it, and to eventually conquer it.
I did not grow up cooking. It was never a skill set that I demonstrated any interest in developing, and it was never really thrust upon me. I think that, as a kid, I tended to crumble under pressure. So one of the following scenarios is likely to have happened:
- Somebody asked me if I wanted to cook and I said “no” and nobody pushed the issue, or
- Somebody tried to get me to cook and I found a way out of it, either by avoiding the task entirely or making an excuse to get out of it.
As an adult person, I continued to find ways out of cooking, no matter what the scenario. Here are some scenarios:
- While serving in AmeriCorps NCCC, a team-based volunteer program when I lived and traveled with 12 other people for a year, one of the expectations was that team members took responsibility for planning and cooking dinner on a rotating basis. I found a teammate to cook for me every single time my turn came around, with one exception: the time that a teammate and I made “chili” using every varietal of spicy pepper available at the local grocery store. The concoction literally burned the mouths of several of our teammates/victims and left me chugging milk along with the worst case of the hiccups I’ve ever had (I myself have an aversion to spicy food). After that I was never asked to cook again. So, in that way, my cooking was effective.
- I lived on an organic farm for several months. This farm had anything you could think of readily available to cook, and it was obviously fresh. You could pick it right out of the ground! Being isolated in the hills of Northern California, there was nothing to do after work except cook dinner. We weren’t going out anywhere. Despite the picturesque setting, an abundance of time, and resources at my disposal, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every night for dinner.
- I don’t even barbecue. Seriously.
“So what do you do nowadays, Matt?” You may be asking. And I’ll share with you the most shameful part of this. In our feminist, leftist, mostly-socialist and all-for-gender equality household, Emma cooks. I’m not going to qualify or otherwise condone this arrangement, and I’ve done about as much analysis into how this has come to be as I care to. The end result is, I’m going to learn how to cook.
I’ve been thinking about learning how to cook for a bit now, and COVID-19 has helped usher this along. I’ve recently taken on stay-at-home dad responsibilities so that Emma can focus on work and we don’t have to worry about sending our kids out into buildings we don’t yet know to be safe (more on this topic under the “Fatherhood” section of this site). As part of the deal, I told Emma that I’m going to learn how to cook. What follows is my first adventure.
“Recipes for Dads”
I literally typed “recipes for dads” into the search bar of my phone browser. I didn’t know what I would get in the results, but I had a pretty good idea. Probably a lot of recipes including meat, hopefully broken down into easy-to-understand and simple instructions. You know, like those sites that pander to the “awe shucks, men” demographic that I try not to be a part of but in this instance I am definitely a part of. I was surprised, then, to discover that none of the initial sites I came across were pandering at all. There were no assumptions made that men cannot cook. They assumed I was….capable. I’m not sure if I was disappointed or empowered by this revelation. The internet thinks I can do it! The internet knows that men can cook! Shit! I should know how to cook by now! I scrolled through a couple of recipes which seemed beyond my current skill level and then settled on this one, which was listed on a site called The Spruce Eats under the header “22 Quick and Easy Dinners for Busy Dads”:
A few things about me before I detail this travesty of a meal:
- I’m pretty good at things that I choose to do. I am a good writer. I am a good social worker. I am a good pool player. In the past, I’ve been good at other things as well. I have a perfectionist streak which makes it pretty impossible for me to not get at least decent at the things that I like to do.
- Like many perfectionists, I choose not to do things that either 1) I do not like to do, or 2) I am not good at doing after trying a few times. These categories are not mutually exclusive and one usually reinforces the other. It causes….problems.
So I start planning for this new meal by first telling Emma what it is, sharing the recipe and asking if we have most of what is necessary to make it. I then do something which I know will cause me anxiety later, but I’m a glutton for punishment: I substitute items. Recipe calls for pork chops? Let’s do chicken instead! Don’t have chicken broth? That’s OK, we’ll use that other stuff that I’ve already forgotten the name of! (edit: It’s Better than Bouillon) Do we even have Worcester sauce? Let’s maybe not even check! How do I know that this will cause me anxiety? Because when it comes to cooking, I’m not good at adapting yet. I’ll have to learn.
I begin cooking the meal by grabbing a pan I think will work. This part is difficult, because I don’t yet know how the meal comes together. Will everything fit in the pan? Am I going to have to put some food on top of other food? I see the recipe calls for a sauce later that I’ll make in the same pan, but what do I do with the food I’ve cooked beforehand? It’s all rudimentary, but that’s where I’m at for now.
I turn the burner on medium-high heat and wait for it to warm up a bit. I realize that I haven’t opened the chicken yet, so I start to take care of that. While doing so, I realize that I don’t have anything to put the chicken in before putting it in the pan. I take out a bowl and commence thinking about all the ways I’ll be responsible for my entire family getting salmonella. The oil is heated so I start putting the chicken in. It starts frying, which I think is a good thing for it to be doing. Emma passes by and points out that I can’t fit all of the chicken into the pan.
This is a glitch. How do I cook all of the chicken at different times? The recipe says that I cook the chicken and then put the garlic and onions in. Do I cook the 2 parts of chicken and THEN put the garlic and onions in? Or do I cook part 1 of the chicken, add the garlic and onions, and then cook part 2 of the chicken? I decide on option 2 and then imagine how sick my family will be from salmonella and I hope it doesn’t leave us at greater risk of catching COVID. It’s not a productive thought, so instead I freak out about how I’ve already put all of the chicken in the pan and HOW CAN I FIX THIS? It’s very productive.
I take two of the pieces of chicken out of the pan and place them back in the bowl that they originally came from. I briefly wonder if this will increase the likelihood of the aforementioned salmonella transmission, but I put it out of my mind because there’s chicken to cook. I continue to follow the timing on the recipe despite knowing that I’ve switched chicken in for pork and the timing is likely different. I flip the chicken and it looks slightly burnt on the bottom. I think “it may look burnt on the bottom but maybe it’s not cooked through,” so I flip it back for a while longer. After I can smell that it’s sufficiently burnt, I flip it to cook on the other side.
I throw in a bunch of red bell pepper that I’ve sliced into strips as instructed. I wonder how the pepper is going to cook alongside the chicken when the chicken is already good and burnt and the pepper is just getting started. I put the thought out of my mind because I just need to get through this. Meanwhile, my younger daughter is under me asking for some leftover pepper. I give her some, wondering how sick she’ll be from salmonella if she eats that, despite it never going near the chicken. Then my older daughter comes over and is asking for pepper too. Instead of relocating the pepper to a location where they can both reach it, I let them visit and revisit the area around the stove, while complaining to Emma that they keep coming over. I’m doing great.
The chicken and the pepper both look “cooked.” I discover that my definition of “cooked” today means slightly charred. I feel bad because I’ve cooked both of these things effectively in the past. But today is a new day! Today I begin to learn how to cook!
Now comes the time when I “make the sauce”. I believe I mentioned earlier that we did not have Worcester sauce. I ask Emma if I can substitute barbecue sauce. No. That’s not a good idea. Emma hands me soy sauce and white vinegar and says to mix it with the bouillon. This is where I figure I can just throw some of the Better than Bouillon into the pan and then follow it by pouring in a healthy amount of soy sauce and white vinegar. I do that 2-3 times and start wondering why a “sauce” isn’t forming. I start wondering why there’s “nothing in the pan.” It’s all just sort of….evaporating, so I do the sensible thing: I give up.
For today, my first meal, I made my beautiful family burnt chicken and bell pepper. When I brought it into the dining room, I noticed the entire house was full of smoke. Emma opened a window and we commenced eating.
- Emma – The chicken is good!
- Older daughter – Where is the rest of dinner? This is just chicken and peppers.
- Younger daughter – Eats her entire meal, asks for more chicken.
- Dad – Eats entire meal, admits chicken is pretty good, but only to himself. Looks sad.
On the whole a disappointing but not entirely discouraging meal! I’ve definitely cooked better in the past. The substitutions threw me off and I let it get the better of me. With that said, this is obviously a really low baseline. You now have an idea of who you’re dealing with. I need to learn how to make a really basic sauce, and I have a friend who has offered to teach me how to make red sauce. I figure that will be a good, basic, concrete skill that will apply to several recipes. So I’m going to take him up on that.
Until next time!
My name is Matt and I am a white, cisgender, straight male and father of two from Upstate New York. My wife and I have two young children who are aged 4 and 17 months. I am a social worker and recently completed a Masters in Social Welfare. I spent about 10 years of my life/career in homeless services and most recently I left a job as a care coordinator for Medicaid recipients. I consider myself, at this point in my life, to be a father and husband first and foremost, though I have alternately been and continue to be an artist, an advocate, a pool player, a writer, a protester, a night-owl, a good friend and a poor swimmer.
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.