Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Will my daughter know what a dial tone is? Will she know what it’s like to hear a busy signal? Will she know what it sounds like when a landline phone rings? Will she ever have to write down a message and will I ever have to explain to her how to answer the phone when she’s home alone in such a way that strangers won’t know her parents’ whereabouts?

Will my daughter know what a record is? Will she ever be scolded for running or jumping near the record player, thus making the record skip? Will she even know what a record skip is? Will she ever listen to the radio for hours, hoping to hear her favorite song a few more times? Will she know what it’s like to fast forward or rewind a cassette, just to hear that one song she really likes?

Will my daughter know what it’s like to wait until the summer to catch the television episodes that she missed? Will she watch her favorite movie over and over again, until the VHS tape wears out? Will she experience looking forward to Saturday mornings, because that’s when all of the cartoons come on? Will she know what it’s like to manipulate the television antenna in order to receive one of the seven available channels clearly?

Will my daughter learn how to sign her name? Will her third-grade teacher force her class to write in cursive, spending copious hours on the proper way to write a script Q or a script Z? Will she know what it’s like to write in longhand until her right hand starts to hurt? Will she ever have to rewrite a one- or two-page essay by hand because of one or two mistakes or misspellings? Will she ever use a manual pencil sharpener? Will she and her classmates have to share the one computer sitting in the back of the classroom? Will she ever use correction fluid?

Will my daughter ever look something up in a hardcover encyclopedia? Will she spend countless hours sifting through books in the library trying to find that one piece of information that’s vital to her class project? Will she know what a card catalog or what the Dewey Decimal System is? Will she keep returning to the library to look things up in one of the reference books they won’t allow her to take home?

Will my daughter hurt herself on a seesaw or a metal swing? Will she hang from the top of the monkey bars, knowing any false moves could lead to broken limbs? Will she skin her knees on the playground’s uneven concrete? Will she ever ride a bicycle or ride roller skates without a helmet? Will she ever play a pickup game organized by she and her peers and without adult supervision?

Will my daughter get four quarters from a relative and think she’s wealthy beyond belief? Will she know what penny candy is? Will she be able to go to the store on her own, without being driven by an adult? Will she and her friends be shooed away from the store’s pay phone because they’re making prank calls?

My daughter will learn the importance of a good, solid handshake and the importance of looking people in the eye. She will know the importance of speaking up and the importance of having her voice heard. She will be taught to say “please” and “thank you” and “no thank you” at the appropriate times. She will learn to respect her elders, teachers and coaches, even when she disagrees with them. She will be allowed to settle her playground and schoolyard disputes on her own whenever possible. She will know that education is important and that her schoolwork comes first. She will have the value of reading impressed upon her. She will be encouraged to be acutely aware of her surroundings and to try and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. She will learn the importance of sharing and of valuing her fellow man and woman. She will be taught not to always judge a book by its cover. She will be forced to push herself intellectually and spiritually. She will be educated about serious issues like sex and drugs at the appropriate times and without words being minced. She will have several adult role models who will push and encourage her.

In many ways, my daughter’s childhood will be much different from mine. But, my hope is that her childhood will mirror mine in the most important ways.


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The Perfect Ponytail

The first time I tried to comb my daughter’s hair was a disaster. She was less than a year old and, while she had a lot of hair, it was still patchy and hadn’t completely filled in. My combing led to her hair becoming even poofier than it already was, exposing all of her patchy spots. I got better at combing my daughter’s hair as she got older, in part because her hair filled in and in part because I gained more experience. But, it was tough to master the ponytail; whenever I tried to make one, I would either get the hair tie tangled in her hair or leave too many loose hairs uncombed, making her hair look frizzy.

If I had a son, things would be easier. I understand boys. After all, I was a boy. I know how to comb a boy’s hair. I can take him to the barber shop, like my dad took me when I was a boy. Dealing with my daughter’s hair is just one of many things I never even gave a second thought before I fathered a girl.

Two things I did think about while my then-girlfriend, now-wife was expecting were pink and princesses. I have no problem with my daughter wearing pink, but I don’t want her to wear pink all the time or to have an inordinate amount of pink-colored items; just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean everything has to be pink, just like boys don’t have to be festooned in blue. I refuse to get her any pink sports apparel. As a sports fan, it’s hard to take women wearing pink jerseys and pink logoed stuff seriously; a woman can be a sports fan and still be feminine without resorting to donning pink.

When I was single, I was always wary of women who called themselves princesses and/or were into princess imagery; in my experience, women obsessed with being a princess were usually high maintenance. My daughter doesn’t need to think of herself as a princess in order to have high standards for herself and for how others treat her. Also, I refused to get her anything that said “Daddy’s Little Princess”, “Daddy’s Little Girl” or any variation thereof. While it’s important to me that I’m a good role model for my daughter, I don’t want her growing up and thinking that I am the only man who will ever make her happy or that she will always be a little girl. Perhaps I’m paranoid about the princess and little girl stuff, but I don’t want my daughter’s self image and self worth to be defined by unrealistic and idealistic expectations. I’m raising my daughter to be a young lady, not a little girl.

As she gets older, my daughter is starting to scream more, and not just when she’s upset. She screams when she’s excited or happy. Once, my daughter let loose with one of her high-pitched screams right by my ear; I thought my eardrum was going to burst. It’s hard to tell my daughter’s excited/happy scream from her frightened/life is being threatened scream. Boys only seem to scream when they’re in trouble, but girls apparently scream all the time; I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.

There are certain things regarding my daughter that I leave to my wife; I stay away from picking out headbands, bows or barrettes, for example. But, I don’t want to leave everything to my wife just because she and our child are the same gender. I’ve never been a big fan of shopping – for myself, or for others – but, for some reason, I’ve enjoyed shopping for my daughter. I often buy my daughter clothes and I like choosing outfits for her to wear.  I never paid attention to children’s clothes, let alone girls’ clothes, before I became a father. However, shopping for my daughter is fun. Before fatherhood, I never thought I would use the words “shopping” and “fun” in the same sentence.

A few weeks ago, I combed my daughter’s hair and she didn’t cry, like she usually does. Instead, my daughter held a corner of her white blanket up to her nose as I sprayed apple-scented detangler onto her curls and carefully ran the black comb through her brown hair. After removing all of the tangles, I transferred the black hair tie from the four fingers on my left hand and into my right palm. I grabbed at the loose strands of her hair, combing them into my cupped left hand. I expanded the hair tie by using all five fingers and put it over the hair I was holding in left hand, studiously twisting and wrapping the tie around the sliver of hair twice. I moved my hands out of the way to inspect my handiwork. I’d finally put my daughter’s hair into a decent-looking ponytail! It wasn’t as good as the ponytails my wife makes, but it was pretty darn close.

I might be cut out to raise a daughter after all.

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I love hip-hop music. I have every CD by Notorious B.I.G. and Kanye West and most of Jay-Z’s, along music with many other hip-hop artists. No matter where I’ve lived, the first station programmed in my car radio is the one that plays the most hip hop. I love listening to old-school hip hop from the 80s and 90s and I also like listening to the new stuff artists at least a decade younger than me are putting out. As I get older, my taste in hip hop becomes more selective and discriminating, but I still like to keep up with the industry’s latest music and newest happenings.

Unfortunately, my love of hip hop is difficult to share with the person I care about the most.

When my 19-month-old daughter is in the car, my Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. CDs stay in the CD holder attached to my sun visor. I’ll listen to the hip-hop station from time to time, but it generally doesn’t take long before I find myself turning to another station because a song comes on that I don’t want my daughter hearing. I have an iTunes playlist that was designed with my daughter in mind and it includes very few hip-hop songs. Fortunately, my taste in music is diverse; I also listen to artists like Billy Joel, Anita Baker and Metallica, just to name a few. It’s important to me that my daughter grows up hearing – and appreciating – music from a variety of genres, just like I did. However, it pains me that it may be years before I’m able to fully share my love of hip hop with my daughter.

I’m not a prude; I don’t object to my daughter listening to music with occasional curse words or the occasional cleverly veiled sexual references every now and then and I’m fundamentally opposed to buying censored music. But, while I think Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance (Remix)” is one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time, I don’t want my daughter listening to B.I.G. as he goes into explicit detail about his sexual conquests. I still remember where I was the first time I heard “Gold Digger”, one of my favorites by Kanye West, but I find its repeated use of “nigger” unsuitable for my daughter’s ears; I don’t want her growing up thinking it’s okay to refer to herself, or others, by an ethnic slur.

Both my parents are music lovers – my dad even worked in the music business for several years – and I spent a good chunk of my childhood listening to their favorite songs and artists. My mom is a huge James Brown fan and I do remember wondering what exactly the Godfather of Soul was referring to when he sang about a “sex machine,” but that was about as blatant as the off-color references got in my parents’ music. The issue of exposing children to risqué content in music we grew up with is something unique to my generation – but not unique to hip hop. And, considering music continues to move away from the subtle and toward the overt, this isn’t an issue that will disappear for future generations of parents.

Even though music was a constant presence in my life, I didn’t develop my own musical tastes until I was a teenager. By then, I was old enough to understand most of the lyrics I was listening to, even if I hadn’t personally experienced what the author was talking about. When hip hop began in the late 70s and early 80s, songs were usually about how great the artist was in relation to other artists and about escaping the poverty, crime and drugs in the neighborhoods where many hip-hop artists grew up. However, my adolescence in the 1990s paralleled the rise of “gangsta rap” and increased realism in hip hop; instead of longing to escape their downtrodden neighborhoods and upbringings, artists were romanticizing their less-than-ideal roots and the name of the game in hip hop became authenticity and realism. Did you grow up a truant and petty thief? Then rap about snatching gold chains off the necks of old ladies. Did you sell drugs? Rap about it. Did you do drugs? Rap about that, too. Heck, even if you didn’t do those things, rap about them anyway. Hip hop became less about cleaning up your act – and your language – so that it would be presentable to the rest of the world and more about telling it like it is and not sparing a single detail, no matter how vulgar, violent, misogynistic or racist.

Meanwhile, I was growing up in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx that had more than its fair share of drugs, crime and poverty. However, I was raised by parents who were gainfully employed and who valued education – including my mom, who works as an elementary school guidance counselor and has two master’s degrees – so I was a solid student who knew a college degree was in my future and I rarely went without something I needed or wanted. I didn’t do drugs, was never part of a gang and had no desire to turn to a life of crime. However, growing up where I did, I knew people who did – or aspired to do – all of those things. So, I could relate to the realism and portraits of ghetto life that were pervasive in 1990s hip hop even though my reality and the expectations I had for my life were different.

I was also drawn to hip hop by the vivid word pictures painted by many of its best artists; even though I’ve never stolen from anyone, listening to “Gimme The Loot” by Notorious B.I.G. makes me feel like I have; Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” makes me feel like I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles even though I’ve never even been to California. The detail-oriented approach of the best hip-hop artists also helped inform my approach to sports play-by-play; in “Player’s Anthem”, Notorious B.I.G. doesn’t just say he robbed a preacher, but that he left him “coughing up blood and his pockets like rabbit ears”, so I shouldn’t just say a ground ball was hit to second base, but also that the second baseman had to move three steps to his right to field the ball before throwing the runner out at first base.

As my daughter grows up, I want to impress upon her that it isn’t enough to listen to music; she needs to try to understand what it’s about, an understanding that becomes even more important when dealing with hip hop’s adult subject matter. I want my daughter to have a desire to learn the meaning behind the lyrics of various songs and to understand the artist’s point of view and his or her frame of reference. I hope that, once my daughter’s a teenager, we can discuss the music I grew up listening to and what it’s about, just as I did with my parents. Even if she doesn’t like hip hop, I want her to know why that genre is important to me and how it has shaped my view of the world. I want her to know that even though many of my favorite hip-hop songs use off-color language, I choose not to and that just because you listen to hip hop doesn’t mean you have to talk, act or dress a certain way or have certain expectations for your life or others around you. More than anything, I want my daughter to understand that music in general, and hip hop in particular, is a way to relate to your own experiences and also a way to understand and/or vicariously experience things that aren’t necessarily part of your reality. Hopefully, my daughter will know that all music, regardless of the form it takes, can be beautiful and powerful poetry.

A true appreciation of hip-hop music is one of the many things my daughter and I will discuss when she’s older.

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I like being an only child.

I never argue when someone says only children are spoiled because we are, by default. Growing up, I didn’t have to compete for my parents’ attention, especially since my parents were divorced and I generally spent time with them individually (I do have a sister who’s seven years younger, but we have different mothers and, although we spent plenty of time together growing up, we weren’t raised in the same household). I had my own toys, my own books, my own bed and my own room. I didn’t have hand-me-downs from an older sibling, nor did I have to give up things I outgrew so that younger siblings could have them. I could go places and do things without trying to tag along with an older sibling or having a younger sibling tag along. Being an only child also taught me to be self-sufficient. I also had to learn how to entertain myself at an early age.

My status as an only child may be my most defining characteristic. Many grew up in households in which they always had to compete for attention, adulation or both but I didn’t. As a result, I’ve always been sure of my identity and am comfortable in my own skin. Growing up, I was accustomed to being the only youngster in a roomful of adults. My mother wouldn’t tolerate me being a wallflower; she always implored me to speak clearly and confidently and to look people in the eye regardless of who they were. As a result, I learned early on how to speak up and was always comfortable around people much older and more accomplished than myself, something that has helped me tremendously as I’ve gotten older.

Of course, there are downsides to being an only child, the main one being that I’m not always the best when it comes to sharing. I’m very protective of my things and of my space, which became an issue when my girlfriend and I moved in together. My girlfriend, who grew up with a younger sister (she also has two older siblings, but they didn’t live together during their formative years), couldn’t understand why I would get annoyed at her when she would leave her things on my side of the bed or that me asking to be left alone didn’t mean I was upset at her. Gradually, we did learn how to coexist in the same space and I became better at sharing with her and she became better at recognizing when I needed my space.

People have told me they appreciate their siblings more as they get older, which I can believe. I see how close my mother and my girlfriend are with their sisters and, while there are a handful of people I consider close friends, I have nothing even remotely resembling the bond siblings share. That sibling bond seems to be especially useful during difficult times, times I’ve grown accustomed to dealing with on my own, usually alone; I tend to internalize my feelings more than most (which leads to an occasional sore spot between me and my girlfriend, who’s used to sharing all of her feelings).

My 18-month-old daughter is an only child – so far. My girlfriend and I have discussed having another child, but we agree now isn’t the right time – we want to take care of a few things financially and get married before we seriously consider the possibility of more children. Part of me would like to have another child, but part of me likes things just the way they are. I’m starting to realize there are benefits to being the parent to just one child. I can devote more financial, mental and emotional resources to her, allowing her to have opportunities and advantages other children won’t have. There’s also the comfort factor. I’m comfortable with my daughter and am enjoying watching her grow up; the thought of starting all over again with a new child is daunting. I’m also more comfortable with the idea of raising an only child than most, since I was one as well.

If my daughter has siblings, I hope she relishes the role of the big sister and develops a close relationship with them. If my daughter is an only child, I hope she appreciates not having to compete for her parents’ attention. More than anything, I want my daughter to be happy with her upbringing and with who she is, just like I was. And, that can happen regardless of how many siblings she has, or doesn’t have.

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