School Is Back In Session

I’ve always been a big fan of summer.

This is not a shocking revelation, I’m sure; lots of people love summer. Summer is all about freedom. Fewer rules, fewer schedules, fewer responsibilities. School is out; camp and vacations are in. You’ve heard of casual Fridays? My wife’s job had casual summers. And even though I work full time as a social worker, summers are a bit easier for me because it’s a lot easier to schedule home visits with families when their kids are out of school.

More importantly, summers are about family. Everyone has taken those road trips with their families at some point or another. My brothers and I were masters of the game of “I’m not touching you, you can’t get mad!” My son can’t talk yet, but it’s just a matter of time before I hear him asking, “Are we there yet?” Summer family vacations are about singing together and playing 20 Questions and getting on each others nerves. They’re about driving for 12 straight hours in traffic and torrential downpours because dad refuses to turn around and go home.1 They’re about seeing things you’ve never seen before, whether it’s the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, a Civil War reenactment at Gettysburg or the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Summer vacations are about making memories together.

All that being said, I’ve heard about many parents loving the fall because it means their kids are finally going back to school2. My son turned one this past June, so he’s still going to be home all day with my wife even after school is back in session. For me, school starting is not as happy an occasion. As I mentioned, part of my job includes making home visits, which have to be scheduled later in the afternoon or evening so I can see the children when they’re out of school.3 The other issue is that I work two other part time jobs at our local synagogue during the school year, which take up a lot of time on the weekend. Add on other tutoring appointments and I’m losing between six and eight hours each week that could be spent with my family. That may not sound like much over the course of a week, but if you add in naps and bedtimes, that’s a considerable chunk of time that could be spent watching my son’s constantly developing problem-solving and communication skills.

So why do it? I have a full time job which would be able to pay (most of) the bills, so why should I take on other work that’s going to cut into my time with my family so severely?

First of all, we do need the money. Even if we could pay the bills with just my salary, we need to move to a bigger apartment and still plan somewhat for the future so the extra income is handy. Second, I’ll admit that I do enjoy my extra jobs (most of the time, at least). They help me maintain a connection with our community and our religion. The biggest reason, though, has become about the message I’m sending my son. I want him to know that it’s possible to work – a lot – and still be there for your family. It’s possible to spend an entire day with families who need help and still be able to find the energy to be present and attentive to your own family’s needs. (It’s not easy, but it is possible.) Even if that concept might still be a bit too complex for him, there’s no question that he knows his father is paying attention to him as soon as he walks in the door. He may not be seeing his father quite as much because I’ll be working, but he’ll know that when I am there, I’m all his.

And that’s the most important thing.

Please visit for more articles from Aaron and other great authors about being a dad.

1. This is one of my wife’s stories.
2. I’m assuming that these parents never sent their kids to summer camp. Although I did love this commercial from a few years ago.
3. Yes, I’m still getting home by 6:30 or so most nights, but we try to have our son in bed around 8:00, so time with him is limited.

Debut of the SAHM

When you meet a person for the first time a common topic of conversation is what you do for a living. Or, at least, the question “Where you do work?” is asked. When Eitan was only a few months old my initial response was always “I don’t work; I stay home with my son.” Now Eitan is 14 months old and my response has changed drastically. This past year has shown me just how wrong my earlier answer was, as well as how so many people have preconceived notions about what it means to be a stay-at-home-mother (SAHM).

No, I do not sleep until all hours of the day. I do not watch soap operas or shop until I drop. I wake up when my son wakes up. Every time. No matter what the hour. I am a boo-boo healer, a chef de cuisine of baby and toddler food, a baby proofer and a child chaser, sometimes all at the same time.

This has led me to change my response when asked what I do for a living. Now I say that I am a SAHM. I am the person who my son calls “MA!” My job is taking care of his every need. I am on the clock 24/7, 365 days a year. If you were to write a job description for a SAHM, it would need to include the following responsibilities and necessary skills:

– Able to change diapers in under ten seconds (bonus points for doing it in the dark while the child is trying to roll over)

– Upper body strength (that you didn’t think you had) to lift and carry a 25 lb stroller

– Organizational skills to pack your child’s entire wardrobe for a weekend driving trip

– Able to utilize enough distractions to cut your child’s nails1

– Linguistic talents to understand the different possible meanings of “Eh!” or “Ah!”

– Intestinal fortitude to taste every type of food before giving it to your baby

– Strength of heart to be able to ignore your baby’s cries because you know they need to be napping

– Willingness to be your child’s play mate2, even if it means not shattering their musical truck against the wall

– Ability to figure out what “the pointer finger” means before tears begin

– Patience.  Lots of it.

Being that this is primarily Aaron’s blog, I feel that it is necessary to give my husband a little shout out.  I have an incredible husband who is always willing to help me with mundane tasks such as the laundry, cleaning the bathroom and other housekeeping chores. He doesn’t spend a lot of time at home but he helps out when he’s there.

Sure, I miss having intellectual conversations about adult topics and using my brain for something other than building block towers or playing peek-a-boo. It’s not easy hearing my husband come home and talk about the “real” issues he dealt with during his day.  But I know that I should not take my “job” for granted or ever complain about the so-called intellectual conversations that I am missing. After having been home with Eitan for the past 14 months, I can’t imagine not being with him every day.

I recently completed my Masters degree in General and Special Education and I sometimes think that I wasted my money since I’m not currently teaching full-time. But then when I think about my day or about the past few months, I realize that I am my son’s personal full-time teacher. Yes, we play, but we also spend a lot of time learning.  We go to classes and on shopping adventures where we explore the world.  We have inside jokes.  Eitan is learning to cook and clean and perform other life skills; he has already mastered flushing the toilet, throwing out garbage and sweeping the floor.3 So although I might not be contributing to the household income, I know that my contributions are much more important for our family.

I don’t mean this to be a judgment of “working moms.”  If anything, I think it’s probably an even harder job to leave a child at home than it is to spend the day with them.  Either way, people do what they need to in order to get by and Aaron and I have found a system that seems to work for us (most of the time, at least).  The bottom line, for me, is that I wouldn’t trade a minute of being Eitan’s mom.

I have the best job ever.

1. Note: Aaron failed this skill.

2. Not to be confused with a Playboy Playmate.  I am not one of those either.

3. Still more evidence that Eitan is clearly my child.

Testing the Limits

“He looks so serious,” my wife said.
I answered, “That’s because he knows he’s in trouble.”

Eitan was sitting three feet away and looking back at me expectantly. Trudy had just spoken very sternly to Eitan and he was looking to me for support. Eitan doesn’t get yelled at often1 but if either of us raise our voices, it’s probably because Eitan has climbed into his toy box or onto the recliner or, as he did a couple of nights ago, onto the ottoman where he sits and moves it back and forth like a teeter-totter. And, while this instance had nothing to do with his safety, a lesson still needed to be taught.

I looked back at him and said, just as sternly as Trudy had, “No. We do not throw food.”

Trudy and I are as rational about Eitan’s development as we can be. We know that Eitan is learning about testing boundaries.2 We know that he’s going to do things that he knows will elicit reactions from us and that he’s just barely starting to understand the difference between right and wrong. We know that this is a long process and that it’s all a natural part of his cognitive development. That’s all easy.

The hard part is remembering to resist the urge to just wrap him up in a hug if he starts getting upset when we’re teaching him these lessons because he doesn’t like seeing his parents angry with him. In this case, Eitan eventually broke the face-off with me by pointing to the pictures of our family on the wall behind me and clapping his hands. My son, the 14-month-old negotiator, has learned to try to distract authority figures from being upset with him by reminding them just how adorable he is and how much they love him.3 And I was forced to look him right in the eye and say, “Yes, that’s us in the picture and we love you very much. But we still don’t throw food.” Eitan kept clapping his hands every couple of minutes and then started crying to be let out of his high chair.

I’ve written before about how smart Eitan is so I’m not going to do that again here. What I will say, though, is that it’s both amazing and heartbreaking to watch him develop, both cognitively and emotionally. I would think that every parent can identify with the feeling of wonder that I’ve experienced watching Eitan figure out ways to solve challenges, whether he’s using the shape sorter or escaping through a door left ajar. He’s literally learning new things every day. That being said, he’s also learning that life is not always fun. He’s not always going to get what he wants. He’s going to get scared. His parents, who have played with him and loved him and cared for him for the entirety of his short life, are going to get angry with him sometimes. And while he’s learning how his actions affect others, he’s forcing his parents to learn that sometimes they have to be the bad guys too.

At least we’re learning together.

1. She didn’t yell. She said “No!” loudly and sternly, but it’s not like she went crazy and screamed at him.

2. Actually, he first started learning about boundaries weeks ago when he realized that he could make his parents make hilarious noises by sinking his teeth into various parts of their bodies.

3. Eitan is never going to get a speeding ticket for this very reason.

Liars, Killers and Brauns, Oh My!

There has been a lot of negative news lately regarding professional athletes in the U.S. The Biogenesis scandal regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in Major League Baseball has re-sparked numerous debates over the validity of certain records, awards and potential future Hall of Fame eligibility. Free agent point guard Daniel Gibson was charged with battery for breaking a man’s jaw during an argument. And, of course, former1 New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez, was arrested and charged with murder.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, indeed.

There are many articles being written and opinions being voiced decrying some of these athletes and their poor judgment and lack of respect for the games they play. Others will speak about how we can, in good conscience, maintain our connections with professional sports and the athletes who play them. There are also other articles that are speaking more to the ways parents can explain negative actions’ by public figures to their children2. As a person who feels a fairly strong connection to multiple sports and teams, and who participates in conversations related to sports somewhat often, I was surprised that I have not had a stronger reaction to this recent string of negativity.

Perhaps it’s just not in me to get too worked up over things like this. Yes, I’m disappointed that a number of MLB players, including former Cubs home-run-hitting machine, Sammy Sosa, have clearly cheated their ways into the history books. Yes, I think that the actions Aaron Hernandez allegedly committed in murdering Odin Lloyd are deplorable. But it just doesn’t seem to be in me to scream from the rooftops or to find a soapbox and start preaching.

I’m still going to follow my teams, win or lose. I’m still going to find myself getting attached to players for no good reason. I’m still going to play fantasy games, even if that means having to cheer for the success of a hated rival.3 Every sport is going to continue making billions of dollars in revenue every year because no matter how much negative press comes about, there are always fans who can’t stay away. Life goes on.

But that’s exactly what concerns me. I am uncomfortable by how simple it is for me to accept these situations as normal. When did this get so easy?

I suppose I already know the answer. Humans are creatures of habit, and I’m certainly no exception. When the same thing keeps happening, I begin to expect it. It doesn’t surprise me that my commute is going to be crowded every morning on my way to work; or that I’m going to have to pay bills every month; or that my family is going to be waiting for me when I get home in the evening. Similarly, it doesn’t surprise me when I hear that another professional athlete has done something stupid. All of those examples happen regularly enough that they no longer seem out of the ordinary to me.

Before I leave you with too much negativity, though, think about this: sports are still amazing. Sports give us the opportunity to bear witness to unbelievable acts of athleticism. They bring families, communities and complete strangers together.4 They distract us from real life and, in some cases, help us accept and move on from real life.5 As long as I focus more on the benefits of sports and the more positive actions taken by the majority of sports figures, I can still feel comfortable continuing my fandom. The joy I derive from watching professional sports – and, more importantly, from sharing them with my son – may be slightly dimmed by the actions of a few people, but it will still be shining brightly.

[1] Former because he was released almost immediately after the team became aware of his alleged involvement in the situation.

[2] At least one of these can be found here

[3] Which, incidentally, is exactly the reason why one of my brothers refuses to play fantasy sports.

[4] See Lessons #1 and #2 for an example of how sports reinforce familial relationships.

[5] Check out these photos from sports in the days after 9/11.