The Gauntlet

Originally published as I Never Imagined Taking My Son to School the First Time Would Be So Brutal – Fatherly.com 10/15/18

My son and I stared down the long linoleum hallway at the horde of kids and parents rushing around in confusion. It was pandemonium: children crying, grownups stressing, and teachers’ assistants literally running around in circles, not sure why. My boy’s tiny palm sweated in my hand with a grip that was just a little too tight. A clock on the wall read 8:30 am, drop-off time. His eyes flashed back and forth to the teachers, the parents, and of course the door to his new classroom. It was his first day of school, or what we parents call, The Gauntlet.

“You okay, my man?” I said. He didn’t even look at me. “Did you see the courtyard? They got a ton of bikes!” It didn’t help.

Finally, he looked up at me with his soft eyes and a puckered lower lip. He said nothing, but I heard everything.What do you think you’re doing? You’re not leaving me here. What kind of a daddy are you? I grimaced and turned my head in shame. A few parents eyed me as they brushed by with their children clutching and screaming at their necks. What were they looking at? I was the only dad in a room filled with bawling mothers. Should I have been crying as well?

I hoisted him up and carried him down the chilly passageway. A little boy with a Paw Patrol t-shirt barreled past my leg with a sticky layer of snot and spit covering his face, making a desperate run for the front door. His mother screamed, knocking down a rack of dodge-balls in pursuit. The red rubber balls bounced and rolled as if they were chasing Indy and his golden idol. I plastered us against the wall to avoid a calamity. Better her than me, I thought, instantly disgusted with myself.

My son hugged me around the neck and said, “Daddy, I love you.”

He might as well have been choking me. I knew what he was thinking. Traitor! I trusted you!

I said what I could to distract him. “Your mom packed those awesome gluten-free rice sticks you like so much. Make sure you drink your milk so your mouth doesn’t fuse together.”

Ugh, pathetic.

“Are you staying with me today?” he said ignoring me.

I cursed his mother for being the working parent. Why must I be the one to suffer through this torture? She makes more, that’s why. “I can’t, but I’ll be right here waiting for you after school. I promise.”

A woman approached with a giant mound of curly red hair attached to her skull. It shifted slightly when she moved her head as if she used Velcro to hold it in place. “Is this Shane?” she asked.

My son stared at his new teacher, showing no emotion. Would he take to her or dart for the door? She held her hand out. He inspected it with caution, and then took it.

Sweet relief! Would it be that easy?

She led him to his new classroom. His back was turned for only a second before he whipped around to face me. There it was. The emotional cocktail that had brewed inside him suddenly forced its way out of every pore and orifice in his face. The cheeks were puffed and red, the eyes were wet and shaking, the mouth was wide open, but nothing came but a quiet hiss. The impending scream was so powerful it needed time to grow to its full potential like an over-inflated balloon on the verge of exploding. When it came, it came with a primal force unlike I had ever experienced. The pitch was almost too high for my human ears, but the fluctuation of tone pierced the air and found my tympanic membrane like a burrowing insect. My breath jumped in my chest and I froze.

Red reacted with the authority only a preschool teacher possessed. “GET OUT OF HERE NOW!” she shouted. She pointed to the front door and  hurried him away.

I hesitated. My son’s cries faltered for a moment. He knew what I was about to do. “I’m sorry!” I sobbed. “We’ll get Chick-Fil-A for lunch!”

Then, I ran. With no regard for anyone’s safety, I plowed through the frantic crowd towards my own selfish freedom. Elbowing my way through the masses, I escaped to the bright early morning sun blanketing the parking lot. It was quiet, except for a few whimpering parents and the cranking of minivan engines. I looked back at the school. My son was right. What kind of a daddy was I? He was alone amongst strangers, screaming and crying. The guilt was overwhelming. How could I have let this happen? I tried so hard to be a good parent: read all the books, took the classes, and even followed the blogs. Yet, there I was.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. It was a text from Red. Already? I imagined the worst. Sorry, Mr. Dennis. You’re going to have to come get Shane. He’s become a disturbance to the other children. We’re operating a school here, not an insane asylum. Smiley-face emoji.

I couldn’t bear to open the message, but there was no way I could wait another second. Hoping I was wrong, I swiped across the phone with my thumb.

Almost immediately, my breathing relaxed and my blood pressure returned to normal. The screen lit up with a picture of Shane sporting a huge grin, Legos piled high in front of him, holding up a car he had just constructed.

My anxiety ebbed as I made my way to the car. I was proud of us. We had run the Gauntlet and emerged stronger than before. I put the key in the Aerostar and started her up, cranked the Wiggles album in the CD player, and smiled all the way home.

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BEARDS, FLIP-FLOPS AND BURP CLOTHS: Stay-at-Home Dads in the Big Easy

FatherSon

(Originally published on Big Easy Magazine – 9/1/18)

There was a commercial on the other day that caught my eye, which is surprising considering I never listen to commercials. They tend to induce a mild state of hypnosis while I wipe the drool off my chin. This one was different, though. It was about a stay-at-home dad and a strange little cylinder with a lifeless robotic voice that lit up every so often to remind him of some random menial task. Creepy, right? Probably records his conversations and sends them to the Russians. The point is, I noticed it because I myself am a stay-at-home dad and we don’t usually get a lot of publicity, social media presence or even actual social presence. Even though it’s not the most common lifestyle for New Orleans’ fathers, this is a great town for a progressive approach to parenting . . .

Continued on Big Easy Magazine

Super Dad?

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(Originally published on New Orleans Moms Blog – 7/24/18)

“Hey, Super Dad!” A construction worker clapped and hollered in my direction as if The Lion King was wrapping up at the Saenger. For a moment, I was confused. Me? Super Dad? I guess if I saw a man carting around a toddler in a stroller with an infant in a Baby Bjorn and a fifty-pound dog on a leash I might be impressed as well. I smiled and thought hell yeah, I’m a rockstar and kept going . . .

Continued on New Orleans Moms Blog

Yelling At Your Kids: Still a viable option?

Yelling

Recent studies show that yelling at children can have traumatic effects on their development and often leads to aggressive behavior later in life. However, there is overwhelming evidence that yelling can also be an effective tool for silencing an insolent child. So how does a parent keep command and still avoid those pitfalls? Dr. Barbara Holland, Chair of Child Psychology at Clearwater Research & Development, claims to have found a solution:

Yell all the time.

She states, “Yelling is a proven method for control and manipulation during the early stages of a child’s development. There is no other strategy quite like it to maintain the authority crucial to the parent/child relationship. My research suggests that yelling sporadically gives mixed messages to children, whereas a more consistent approach will garner positive results.”

Dr. Holland’s work focuses primarily on the effects of volume variations of speech on a child’s psyche. Her data showed that a near constant state of increased volume produced the desired effect. “If the parent sustains an elevated level, and it has to be constant, the child will remain in a state of confusion and fear, thereby ensuring obedience. We sampled 20 families over the course of a year. The parents were instructed to yell at all times, whether the child was disobedient or not. The results were encouraging. The majority of the children resisted the temptation to speak up and oftentimes refrained from even asking to go to the bathroom. The parents seem to enjoy the process, as well,” Holland says. “The key to success was consistency. An average 95% yell-rate produced an impressive margin. Anything less and the child regressed. Surprisingly enough, that only happened in two of the families tested. The other 18 sets of parents adapted quite easily to the constant yelling.”

Any long-term effects? The scientific community has had mixed reactions to Dr. Holland’s work and some claim it only exasperates the problem. Dr. Holland addressed her critics. “I understand the skepticism. Who knows what could happen twenty years down the line? But hey,  kids are resilient, right? If it doesn’t work, I’m sure they’ll shrug it off. Worth a shot.”

Dr. Holland drew inspiration for her unorthodox approach from her own unique upbringing. In the early 1950’s Dr. Holland’s father, Dr. John Holland, Jr., led a study examining the effects of isolation on pre-adolescent boys. The subjects were handpicked from a Catholic prep school in rural England and flown to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. They were equipped with nothing besides what they could salvage from an airplane wreck. The results were controversial to say the least. The boys reverted to a savage state by forming tribes that often clashed violently and established a rudimentary hierarchy by the use of a conch shell. Dr. John Holland, Jr. was later exposed for having orchestrated the crash and conducting the experiment in secret.

Dr. Barbara Holland defends her late father. “My father was a pioneer. His work was controversial, but groundbreaking. Without his guidance in my youth, this yelling study would never have come to fruition.” At a recent symposium at Cambridge University, Dr. Holland was asked how her father’s work influenced her career. She responded simply by saying:

“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.”

An Open Letter to My Son’s Principal – What’s being done about all this lava?

Lava

Principal Marvin Jenkins
Oakwood Elementary
New Orleans, LA

 

Dear Principal Jenkins,

My son Shane, a student in Mrs. Brown’s Tiny Tots class, brought something to my attention that I find gravely concerning. It appears your campus is being overrun by rivers of what he described as “bubbly and super-duper hot lava!” I was aghast. How a prestigious and upstanding institution such as your own could be so perilous, truly escapes me. Evidently, it has penetrated almost every corner of the school: under the rope ladder on the playground, the pillow corner in the reading nook, and most troubling of all, the floor mat in the main entrance.

As you may well imagine, I am extremely uncomfortable with my son attending a place of learning with so many treacherous hazards. This cannot stand and must be rectified for the safety of not only the students, but the entire staff. I’m certain the school board would disapprove of boiling molten earth flowing through the halls of Oakwood Elementary and putting all our children at risk. It would be unfortunate if this matter were to make its way up the ladder, so I’m sure you won’t hesitate to address it post haste.

I appreciate how difficult it must be to oversee the education of an entire student body, but if left unchecked a crisis of this magnitude would ultimately end that responsibility. I pray that no mother has to come home to a child with a melted extremity before the situation can be corrected. Then where would we be?

Hell, that’s where.

On a side note, Shane has informed me that there are no longer any T-Rex’s in the new cafeteria. Thank you for handling that in an expeditious manner.

Sincerely,

Barbara Holland, concerned parent.

Parking On The Sidewalk – A fun and creative way to give back to your community!

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I was out for a walk with my kids when I came upon this car parked across the sidewalk. The driver made sure to pull right up to a trailer in front of him, leaving only inches to spare. I thought Well, this is a challenge! No boring walk for us today. We have a puzzle to solve!

The problem was how to navigate this labyrinth of intrigue with my son in a stroller and my daughter in a Baby Bjorn? And don’t forget about my dog on a leash who added another exciting level of complexity to the task! Fearing nothing, my children and I were exhilarated to tackle it as a family and come out the other side stronger than ever before!

Walking is a great way to get your daily exercise, especially if you’re at home with the kids. We all know how hard it can be to get to the gym. But sometimes, it’s just not enough. That’s when a helpful citizen employing the sidewalk block can really make a difference. In Mid-City, there’s an enormous outpouring of support for this initiative. Why park on the street when you can roll right up to the house and offer your neighbors a true test of physical and intellectual ability?

Here’s some benefits that you might not have considered:

  1. STRENGTH TRAINING: What an opportunity to test those muscles! Try lifting the stroller, baby included, as high as you can to clear the hood of the car. Make sure you have enough room to squeeze your legs past that bumper! This is magic for the upper body. And we can’t forget about those all important quads. The dog will give you a boost by pulling in the opposite direction and providing that leg work essential to a balanced fitness regimen!
  2. PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS: Get the kids involved! Studies have shown that sidewalk blocking can promote cognitive development in youngsters. Turn the event into a game. For example, try testing your little ones to see if they can figure out the best way around the obstacle. How much room is there under the car? Will the baby fit? Is there some way to hoist the dog over the roof? Get creative! There’s a million different ways to get them thinking.
  3. SPEED AND ENDURANCE: Not only does the sidewalk block test your muscle coordination it can also help with cardiovascular health. This is the perfect excuse to get that heart rate up! How fast can you run around the back of the car before another car comes screaming down the street? It’s not just about speed, timing is also important. Wait for an opening, then GO FOR IT!

These are just a few examples of ways you can make a difference in your community by challenging your neighbors to challenge themselves. We all need a little push to excel and blocking the sidewalk with your car gives us that chance whether we want it or not. Don’t hesitate to show people you truly care about their well-being and are willing to go that extra mile! You’ll feel better about yourself and what’s more important than that?

Now get out there and have some fun!

P.S. I hate you