Interview at Virginia Quarterly: link, plus a quick clarification of awkward phrasing on my part

Guy Gonzalez interviewed me over at the Virginia Quarterly about being a dad and a writer. One of the reasons I was psyched to do the interview is that almost no one has ever asked me as a dad how I juggled parenting and writing, but almost every married women writer friend of mine has been asked. The assumption is interesting, but I think dads are worth asking about parenting as well. And I’m proud to be a dad, so it was something really new to talk about (we should either assume it effects both sexes of writer equally and ask both, or stop asking the question of women). As Guy says in his introduction:

As a married father of two who has long struggled with finding the right balance that allows for enough time to write, I was disappointed by the absence of voices that resembled my own experience, and was inspired to do something about it. And so, “Writer Dads” was conceived as a series of interviews with professional writers who are also fathers, discussing how they balance the two, what the real challenges are, and how it affects both their writing and parenting.

Some of my thoughts:

How have things changed versus five years ago? Is it easier, harder, or just different?

I find it different. I do have less leeway to have an unstructured day than I used to. When everyone comes home, it becomes difficult to have a “late day at the office” so I tend to save smaller, more administrative tasks for the end of the day. I have to be more disciplined.

Some days I think harder, but then I mainly just realize I wasted a lot of time before I had kids. You know the old story about the professor who points out that if you put sand in a pitcher and then try to add rocks you can’t pack as much in when compared to putting in rocks first then sand? Focus on the big important stuff, and let the little things sort themselves out. I have more big things in my life, but realistically, I’ve mainly cut out a lot more TV and video gaming, and other things.

One of the things I wanted to clarify was this paragraph:

Women have a harder time of balancing this stuff. The expectations of society, the biological necessities of nursing, and so forth, plus the fact that women often end up doing more of the household and parenting stuff, means that it’s simply a matter of many women having less time. Many women writers who have kids don’t have the option of daycare, and the kids are around until kindergarten. If they’re doing the writing part time, it’s got to be tough. I can’t even imagine.

I failed to add a qualifier or two in there to better explain myself, as I was working quickly on this interview while in transit. What I mean by ‘expectations of society’ is that many women parents have more pressure to take on a larger portion of the domestic sphere in a way male parents do not get. Because of that, I think women writers who have children, both historically and today, can expect a larger pressure than a male writer (like me) to cede writing time to taking care of the kids. As a result, if there is no daycare or the money is tight, I think a woman writer has a harder, unfairer pressure than a male writer would in the same situation.

Talking about being a writer who is a dad is a little awkward for me, because obviously society does toss more cookies your way for doing the same job as a writer who is a mom. Our society expects a mom writer to raise the kids and write by default, the mom gets no hero’s welcome for doing that. A writer that is a dad who steps in gets a hero’s welcome for basically just hitting the same bar. Forget writing, whenever I’m out in public with the twins (particularly in the midwest) everyone acts like I’m the best dad in the world and stops to tell me about it, particularly when they were at the diaper stage I used to get a lot of unfair pats on the back. Few stopped my wife to encourage her to ‘stay involved’ with them as I was, or say out loud ‘it’s so great to see a mom out with her babies’ as I was often told.

That being acknowledged, I still want to talk about being a parent and art, because I think there are many experiences out there and I feel I have something to add. And, also, I wanted to let potential writers know that art and family aren’t totally incompatible, as I was told by many while starting out.

Photo: Thalia in the garden

But dad this weed has such a fine and delicate fragrance:

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Photo: Office companion

Calli was in the office looking at my candle as I was writing after her 4th viewing of The Lion King while home all week with me sick. She still has a very mild fever, but is no longer in the scary zone. She let me sleep in a bit today (by her standards) and has been focused on resting, which means I’m not falling nearly as far behind as I feared.

After sitting on the floor and staring at the candle, then moving to looking at the cars go by outside my office window, she crawled onto the floor, stole my blanket, and passed out.

Cal

Sick kid still hanging out at home

Cal is still recovering at home watching Spider-Man cartoons with me after a brutal fever. We actually took her to the ER for just shy of 105 degree temperature. Here she is after the ER visit showing me the cool ‘bracelet the hospital lady’ gave her.

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Fortunately today she’s in good spirits. And the fever is continuing to come down, so we’re going in the right direction.

Oh, and she slept until noon today, which meant I got a lot of work done this morning while waiting for her to get up. Very welcome.

The creepiest thing kids say over at the Daily Telegraph

This had me laughing out loud:

“psalm_69: I was sound asleep, and at around 6am I was woken up by my 4-year-old daughter’s face inches from mine. She looked right into my eyes and whispered, ‘I want to peel all your skin off’.”

(Via What’s the creepiest thing your young child has said to you? | thetelegraph.com.au.)

Photo: Cal home sick

I have a companion today. Calli is running a crazy high fever. Emily is home taking care of her. Poor kid is flushed and exhausted.

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Parenting styles across the world

I’m always wary of generalizations. I certainly am completely usually uninterested in how other people parent and do my best to not get involved in parenting discussions, because there is a lot of fucking crazy out there. But a lot of people are shocked by how early our twins go to bed, and this article at The Atlantic caught my interest about the difference in Dutch parenting and American. We lean a bit more toward Dutch:

“‘Many parents stressed the importance of a regular schedule, including a set time for both meals and bed. As one mother of an 18-month-old explained: ‘To bed on time, because they really need rest to grow, and regularity is very important when they are so little. If she gets too little rest, she is very fussy.’ A mother of a 6-month-old commented, ‘We are very strict about going to bed – at 6:30, upstairs.”

Apparently, it works. The authors noted that the children of Dutch parents were consistently more calm, existing more frequently in a state of ‘quiet alert,’ while American babies were more often ‘actively alert.’”

(Via How Parents Around the World Describe Their Children, in Charts – Olga Khazan – The Atlantic.)

I have no idea if what we do is better, but having the strict schedule and an early bedtime that’s been on the clock since birth seems to allow us as parents an evening together that’s quiet and low key.

The main way to tell if this works is to observe what happens when our kids go off schedule (which sometimes happen). And our kids start loosing their affable groove.

I also found some of this stuff in French parenting interesting (and something I’m trying to be mindful about, training myself to model and teach the kids to not be interruptive and not to respond):

Like, don’t let the kids interrupt, and conversely, you shouldn’t interrupt them. It’s a small change, that you can make that, for me, at least, over time radically changed my quality of life. I think kids in France, and certainly in my household, don’t necessarily stop interrupting when you tell them, but they gradually become more aware of other people and that means that you can have the expectation of finishing a conversation. And not being able to finish a conversation or a thought or a cup of coffee is a frequent problem that people in America take for granted is not going to go away.

I tend not to talk about this stuff too much. While the twins have been fun, I find the worst part of parenting to be other opinionated parents and the cult of parenthood who can’t conceive that there are many different ways to an endpoint.

My kids are 4 years old. How did that happen?

Today I got home after a quick drive down to Columbus to have my laptop checked over (turned out to be a false alarm, the battery inside is just degrading faster than it should).

And then, instead of dallying around like I normally would have to visit people I know down there, I rushed right back home so I could be back just in time for dinner with Emily and the twins, because it’s their 4th birthday today. We kept things low-key, as Emily and I are not sure that every birthday needs to be a big, explosive huge affair that gets expectations totally warped (though my mum and stepdad are on their way out from Virginia to come visit this weekend for a slightly larger family get together).

They exchanged gifts they’d gotten for each other after some dinner.

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And got to test out some musical instruments we got them.

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There’s a weird compression of time and a slowing down of it all at the same time with some aspects of parenting. It just seems like a few months ago they were figuring out how to walk, but I know from looking at pictures and videos that it was a long, long time ago.

Now Calli can write her name and they’re singing the lyrics of their favorite show out while jamming on their new guitar and drum kit.

How did that happen?

Chocolate chip grins

Out enjoying lunch with the twins on a bright but sunny Saturday.

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Happy Easter

From the wonder twins, who were excited the bunny came with chocolate and are now off to hunt eggs with their cousins.

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