Tag Archives: Only Child

The Human Experience

(Image courtesy of sacredspacevillage.org)

(Image courtesy of sacredspacevillage.org)

I want to have sex with her. But I’m also afraid she’ll think I’m no good at it and tell all her friends. Or that I’ll get performance anxiety and FML. Or that we’ll do it and it will be great, but my Catholic guilt will set in because maybe God doesn’t want me doing this and now I’m a bad person.

I want to look and feel really good and be healthy. But I’m so tired and I’ll never feel good without adequate sleep, so I’ll skip this morning’s workout. And I don’t have time to go to the store right now for fresh produce, so I’ll just order a pizza. And Easter candy tastes good. And a couple beers can’t hurt.

I want to never stress about money again and I want to maximize my personal income. But I don’t have time to budget right now. And it’s fine that I eat out all the time because I’m spending less money at the grocery store. And I can always work on that thing that might make me more money tomorrow.

There’s always an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

There’s always a yin and a yang.

There’s always a tradeoff or compromise that needs made.

I was an only child.

I was really good at entertaining myself. I always enjoyed books and movies and video games, and I had a great imagination and could have fun alone.

I also loved going to play with my friends. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than laughing and playing and having fun with other kids.

But sometimes, I had to compromise because I was at their house and needed to go along to get along. Sometimes, all of my friends didn’t do what I wanted to do, and maybe we had fun anyway, but maybe sometimes I didn’t because their idea might have been crappier than mine.

Sometimes friends would be at my house and it would be great, but then at some point, they were infringing on my time and space and I didn’t really mind when they left because then I could do whatever I wanted again.

Of course, at some point, I always missed them and wanted them to come back.

I got laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010 somewhat unexpectedly, and prior to my divorce, that was easily the most difficult thing that ever happened to me.

Not having a job when you want one is hard. You lose self-confidence. Your shame level increases. Your wife starts thinking you’re pathetic. Your friends probably do, too, but they never say so because they’re your friends.

I’ve always liked my jobs in the context of “having to go to work.” Some people have to stand in front of machines or do really hard manual labor or clean up poop and pee all day.

I’ve always been paid to write stories. Regardless, going to work is a drag when you don’t really want to. I like writing stories, but I don’t always like writing stories in this specific location at this specific time and about this specific subject. I don’t always like doing what other people tell me to do.

But then one day, I was 30 and unemployed, and it lasted 18 months and I was totally miserable, not counting the valuable time I had with my son at home.

I will NEVER take my job for granted again!, I vowed.

But four years later, I pretty much take my job for granted and wish I didn’t have to sit in a cubicle all day.

Being single again and not in constant emotional agony has been an interesting experience.

Like with pretty much everything in life, there are things about it that are good, and parts that aren’t so good.

I’m a little bit like that only child again. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want, when I want.

And that’s good! I still have a good imagination, and I’m still capable of entertaining myself.

But you get lonely, too.

And I don’t mean Boo-freaking-hoo, I’m lonely and crying on the couch. I’m not doing that. But sometimes, you’re watching a ball game or a movie or reading a book while your son is asleep upstairs at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, and you think: Hmm. Life sure would be better right now if I had someone to spend this time with.

Do I crave conversation? Yes.

Physical intimacy? Of course.

Shared experiences? Best way to build connections.

But then I wonder if maybe she is around whether I’ll secretly wish she would just go home sometimes like I did back when a friend maybe annoyed me while playing in the backyard or on my bedroom floor.

I loved my wife very much. I was a lousy husband when I declined invitations to go to bed, or ignored her in favor of online poker or 24 marathons on Netflix, or because I was more interested in Monday Night Football. But I did love the woman in the same way I feel love about my family members and close friends.

And I was still capable of making her sad and miserable by intentionally choosing to do things that I wanted to do.

We’re capable of terrible things.

It’s okay to be selfish when you’re single. I need to be unselfish for my son, of course, but in the context of adult romantic relationships, I can do whatever I want and needn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

And I guess that’s nice.

But we’re humans and we crave connection. I don’t mean crave like I really want it!

I mean crave, like we really need it.

We all want to be a part of something. To connect mentally, emotionally, spiritually with like-minded people and groups to achieve some end.

It’s why you buy the products you do. It’s why you live in the neighborhood you live in. It’s why you work where you do. It’s why you’re involved in your various hobbies and social groups and team sports and churches and relationships.

But it’s not okay to be selfish when you’re a couple. When you’re part of something greater than yourself. I know this as well as or better than most.

What if I’m always that selfish only child who doesn’t always like to share?

Of course I crave it now.

I don’t have it.

We always want what we don’t or can’t have.

But I’ll probably have it someday.

And what then? When the shiny newness is gone? When I think a quiet Friday night with my son sleeping upstairs and a book or movie alone is sounding pretty good?

I want her.

But I’m afraid of her.

I want it.

But what if I don’t always?

I want everything that I don’t have because that’s what’s missing! and if we fill the voids then we can finally be happy!!!

I think maybe we’re all a little bit broken on the inside. And I think that brokenness keeps us constantly filling “voids” only to discover that something’s missing feeling never actually goes away.

I am selfish.

I want, want, want.

Me, me, me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she often said. The truth hurts.

The common denominator in all of my life pursuits that never ultimately brought me satisfaction is that I wanted things, acquired them, and still felt dissatisfied.

The common thread was selfishness. I want more.

Over and over again. Rinse, wash, repeat. I want. I need. Give me.

And it hasn’t worked yet. Not one time in 36 years.

Hmm.

What if we tried giving?

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How to Feel Proud of Your Child

Learning-is-Fun

I’m hard on my son sometimes.

To the point where I make him angry. Because I want him to be the best person he can be even if that means he has to be upset with me for correcting him.

It’s like a dangerous high-stakes game. Risking his affection in exchange for his good behavior and character development.

I made him cry last night after scolding him for making a mess because he wasn’t following directions.

“You’re never nice to me,” he said.

We talked about that for about 15 minutes. I think he actually understood when I explained how I’m his father first, and his friend, second. And that my job is to help him learn lessons and be the best person he can be. That I must hold him accountable when he doesn’t follow rules.

He’s a good boy.

And I’m often very nice to him. And he knows it, too.

They Grow Fast

Too fast, most parents will tell you.

His loose tooth finally came out Sunday. So the tooth fairy visited for the first time overnight.

He was as surprised as some of my disapproving co-workers to discover $5 under his pillow.

I was brushing my teeth as he counted the single bills on the floor outside the bathroom.

“Dad, I can’t believe I got five dollars for one little tooth!” he said.

“What would you like to do with your money?” I said.

He thought for just a minute.

“I want to put it in my piggy bank,” he said.

“You do? What do you want to save your money for?”

“I want to save it so you can buy me presents for Christmas and my birthday,” he said.

I smiled.

“Buddy, you are so thoughtful. But that’s your money. Mom and dad will use our money to buy you Christmas and birthday presents. This money is for you,” I said.

“Okay. I still want to save it,” he said.

Good boy.

Little boys like to pull their pants down to their ankles when they first learn to potty standing up. It’s not a big deal at home. But it’s not the kind of thing you want them doing in public restrooms or at school.

This morning, he went potty while I was still finishing getting ready for the day. He did so without pulling his pants all the way down.

“Look dad! This is how I potty now!”

“You’re getting so big, buddy. I’m very proud of you,” I said.

Big boy.

We were running ahead of schedule this morning. So we took a few minutes to work on some at-home learning activities for school. He knew what the Mayflower was, the ship our early settlers used to come to America. Well, at least the version of the story they tell American children. I was just impressed he’d heard of the ship and could rattle off some history about it.

He told me all of the months in the calendar year, in the correct order. It was the first time I’d heard him do that.

Smart boy.

He stuck a large yellow smiley face sticker to my shirt this morning.
“So you remember to feel happy,” he said. “Every time you see it, I want you to feel happy.”

I haven’t taken it off.

Sweet boy.

He does this thing where he always wants to race me. Because it’s winter and he hasn’t learned to be careful yet, he slipped on a sheet of ice while sprinting toward the day care family’s house this morning. He fell pretty hard. Cried a little.

“Hey. You’re okay, bud. You’re tough,” I said.

He continued whimpering.

“You remember what we’re going to do after I pick you up after work?” I said.

“Get Christmas lights and marshmallows for hot chocolate,” he said.

And cracked my favorite smile.

“That’s right. Christmas lights and marshmallows. Now you go have a good day at school. I’m so proud of you.”

And off he ran to tackle his day.

Brave boy.

This morning my son displayed innocence. Delighted by the wonder of the Tooth Fairy’s overnight visit.

He displayed kindness and generosity. Wanting to contribute to the family Christmas fund.

He displayed wisdom by choosing to save his money rather than spend it.

He displayed maturity. Going potty in a more-thoughtful, more-grownup way. By demonstrating new things he’s learned at school and home.

He displayed resiliency. Falling. Being hurt. And getting up and shaking off the pain.

Finding his smile as he looked forward to the good times that lie ahead.

That’s my little man. My beautiful child.

Growing, growing, growing.

Thank you for being you, son. Every choice led me to you.

No regrets.

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Grade School Shenanigans

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! It's your time!

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes and have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! This is your time! Just don’t tell your teachers I said so!

I kept my head down.

My first-grade teacher was really letting me have it in front of the entire class.

Our assignment was simple enough: Punch holes all around the periphery of two pieces of construction paper. Then, we were to sew the two pieces of paper together by weaving a strand of yarn in and out of the punched holes.

What a bunch of stupid bullshit, six-year-old me thought, though it was probably closer to: Golly gee, all this sure seems silly!

So, I started to skip a hole here and there.

This is so much faster!

Once I figured out how much more efficient the shortcuts were, I went nuts and started skipping entire corners.

All the other kids’ yarn was perfectly sewn in and out of each hole like they were supposed to.

Mine was a hot freaking mess vying to be among the shittiest child artwork anyone had ever seen.

The teacher was PISSED. Excessively so, I think. And she was making an example of me—the newest kid in the class.

I braved a glance away from the floor. There, peering through a window into the classroom, were two girls watching me get scolded.

I made eye contact with one of them. We held each other’s gaze for a moment.

Then I grinned at her.

Hi, Girl I Don’t Know. We can’t be good all the time!

We’ve been friends ever since.

Oh, Shit. Now I’m the Parent

My five-year-old son started kindergarten less than two weeks ago.

The first week, he was “caught being good”—something that awarded him praise in front of his classmates and a special trip to the principal’s office for recognition and a small prize.

I thought it was adorable. I was really proud of him and told a handful of people about it.

Then this week happened.

He’s had not one, but TWO, notes sent home this week by his teacher because of poor behavior.

“I’m writing to let you know that your child has been making poor choices this week. He talks excessively to other kids and sometimes has trouble keeping his hands to himself,” the note said.

I bought him a new toy after picking him up Tuesday. He had told me he’d been good all day.

A fib, it turns out.

So, I had to take his new toy away. He was pretty upset. Which is the desired effect when you want to teach your children there are consequences to being little shitbags in school and then lying about it.

He earned his toy back by being good in school yesterday.

I enjoy positive reinforcement much more than making him sad.

I wrote his teacher back Tuesday night, so she knew where I stood:

I made it clear that both my ex-wife and I were on the same page as far as reinforcing following directions and respecting the rules of the classroom, and that we would do everything we could to support her efforts. But I did mention that our son is still trying to adjust to a new life without both of his parents at the same place at the same time, which I don’t think she knew about.

I don’t want to make excuses for him. But I also think this has adversely affected him—even more than I’d originally feared. And it’s still pretty fresh.

He has some anger now. Anger previously unseen. Which is why I spend as much time laughing with him as I possibly can.

She ‘Nose’

My friends and I liked to laugh. We liked to have fun. And I don’t regret even one second of that.

There was this one kid who came to our school in fifth grade and moved after eighth grade. But during those four years he was at our school, he was one of my best friends.

He had a massive crush on the girl who was universally considered the most attractive in our class.

One day, we heard a rumor that she knew about his crush on her.

“She KNOWS,” we’d say dramatically, before laughing hysterically.

If we couldn’t speak because class was in session, we’d just mouth the words: “She knows,” while pointing to our noses for effect.

For almost an entire semester, he or I would write the word “NOSE” on the blackboard before class started every day. Sometimes our teacher would erase it. Sometimes he wouldn’t.

That always made me laugh.

I don’t think that I’ve ever been bad.

But I’ve always been mischievous. And I don’t intend to stop.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do?

I try to set a decent example for my son. I do.

But I don’t know how to shut myself off sometimes. I’m kind of a clown. My ability to display maturity as a 34-year-old has been questioned on several occasions—both at home and at work.

Here’s what I tell my son:

  1. Listen to your teachers. They’re in charge. Use your ears. Following directions is important.
  2. Be nice to other kids. You can’t have too many friends.
  3. It’s important to learn. That’s how you make money so you can buy food and toys.

I expect him to have good manners, treat people kindly and respect his teachers.

But just between you and me? Do I really care that he’s inclined to share private jokes with friends and build those social bonds—some of which may last a lifetime—even when the teacher wishes he wouldn’t?

Not particularly.

In fact, I kind of like it.

Because that note from his teacher? That could have been written about me.

And, while I have plenty of things wrong with me, I’m not unhappy with the person I am today.

As his father, I can’t stand by silently if he’s blatantly disrespectful and insubordinate.

But if this life has taught me anything, it’s that there may be no resource more precious than friends.

I’d be nothing without them. As an only child, my friends WERE my family.

And now I’m looking at my young son. A little me. A child of divorce. And at exactly the same age. He’s also an only child.

I have a better sense today of what’s important than I’ve ever had.

And while my son will never hear me encourage him to goof off or be disruptive in class, it is my belief that the most-important life skills we learn in grade school are socialization and how to make friends.

And near as I can tell, he is off to a pretty good start.

Go get ’em, little man.

We can’t be good all the time.

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