Monday, April 9, 2012


Easter was always an extremely important day for my mother, mostly for the religious meaning behind all of it.  As children we would get cleaned up, dressed up, and head off to church on Easter Sunday.  I found some of the meaning lost behind the formality of it all, but I think I recognized subconsciously that something important to my mother was something I ought to step in line for.

One Easter tradition I did enjoy as a child was coloring eggs.  I suppose partly because I enjoy eating eggs, and partly because my limited creativity skills are just about right for dying easter eggs since I would always end up consuming my work before I realized how lame it was.

I hadn't seen Cody for a while, so I made plans to spend Sunday afternoon celebrating his birthday from a few weeks prior and coloring easter eggs.  On my way to pick him up, I bought a few egg coloring kits and found myself surprised at how cheap they were.  I actually hunted around for more expensive kits based on the assumption that the ones I found were probably going to be disappointing.  In actuality, they most certainly were, the colors seemed to take forever to dye the eggs, although who knows, maybe the eggs were genetically engineered to have tougher shells since I didn't buy organic, pastured eggs.  Even with vinegar added the dyes just seemed incapable of coloring anything except the grout lines of the countertop when spilled.  Why anyone thinks tile is a good choice for a countertop is beyond me.

So, enter the mind of an 11 year old boy.  I think Cody had more fun mixing colors together to make various shades of brown, asking me for more versions of purple (his favorite color) and blowing the yolks out of the eggs after poking holes in them so that he might make "smoke bombs".  He used his hands to scramble the resulting yolk mix, rendering it unfit for consumption (no biggie, although I did originally intend to cook them and serve to him) and he seemed to eschew the wire egg holders, instead using his fingers which then turned various colors.  He also repeatedly shook his dye-soaked hands out on the ground, flicking dye all over the floor tile/grout instead of using paper towels I placed in front of him.  All very normal for a child, but he kept me on my toes with the tasks of boiling eggs, cleaning counters and floors, opening the dye packs, filling the cups with water and vinegar, and giving him basic advice.

Which leads me into my insight for the day.  I think Cody is a beautiful child, full of hope and possibility. But I see his life as an uphill battle because of the circumstances dictated by his parents, circumstances which are the unfortunate result of an adult population who pushes the ideals of a family below the importance of individual happiness.

I'll explain that in more detail.  But first let me rephrase.  I think Cody has a rougher road than he would with two parents actively taking care of him.  And I'm not saying anything about the quality of parental care because I honestly think the kid would benefit from 2 lousy parents more than one awesome parent.  My personal opinion, when it comes to parents, is that 1 + 1 is a whole lot more than 2.  This is off very limited once-every-two-weeks observations of a single child, so there is no science at all here, just gut feel.  I got a glimpse of some of this during the ski trip when Brad was available to step up and help guide and lead, it made such a huge difference.

Now, let's rewind to just before I picked Cody up.  I was in his apartment, talking to Patty, and she mentioned he has started eating salads now.  I won't take all the credit for this, not having discussed it with Cody at all, but I do think that the meals we have shared which generally consist of salads for me and pizza for him, may be something he is picking up on.  There is a definite follow-the-leader and lead-by-example factor with kids at this age, they look up to adults even if they aren't able to express that in words.  I remember being the same way, a lot with my dad and my mom, and even with various other older kids and adults who demonstrated new ways of thinking and doing to me.  So, if my influence is somehow contributing to Cody's eating habits drifting in a positive direction, that's a nice little reward for my efforts that I can tuck away in my pocket and feel good about.

But, back to the eggs.  I spent most of the time with Cody preparing the eggs and colors and then cleaning up.  I spent precious little time actually interacting with him.  In retrospect, I should have bought everything and had the eggs boiled and colors tested and ready before I picked him up, but I selfishly went to Tim Miller's ashtanga class instead of doing my homework.  The more obvious solution, the one that would solve this problem indefinitely, is the addition of a 2nd parental figure.  Part of me wishes BBBS would allow 2 adults to 1 child interactions for this very reason.

With two parents actively involved in easter egg coloring with a child, one can manage the egg prep, color prep, cleanup, drying station, and basically all of the logistics.  The other parent is then free to provide creative input to the child, instruct and assist them with blowing out the yolk for the eggs, suggesting creative ideas on color choices and patterns, half and half, stripes, spirals, etc.  My limited observation is that children just don't self-teach out of pure curiosity very well because their perspective is often more limited than we realize as adults.  It's sort of like how everyone thought the world was flat until Columbus took a risk to prove otherwise.  Without a parent suggesting "hey, want to try it this way" the child is likely going to fall back into the known realm of making a big mess and not really understanding the experience, effectively the behavior patterns of a much younger version of the same child, well within the comfort zone.  Now I'm not saying an 11 y/o needs to be an adult, but I am saying that if he or she wants to grow up by taking progressive steps, the influence of the actively involved adult is one of the most important pieces in that process.  

I remember doing all sorts of things with masking tape, flowers and pantyhose with rubber bands, etc to make all sorts of crazy looking eggs when I was a kid.  And I know I stopped doing that in high school, so I don't think I was much older than Cody when I reached peak egg dying intensity.  I am sure I took it more seriously than most kids, as some sort of challenge that deserved my full attention and effort, and I'm not saying every moment has to be a silly indulgence into excessiveness.  But I am saying that I needed inspiration and initial instruction before I knew what was possible.  Once I was given that creative input, once I saw an older kid or parent coloring their egg with more skill than my own, I was then inspired to try new techniques.  

I suppose I am also saying that I find the basic tasks of parenting, the logistical ones, to absorb so much of my time that the advanced tasks of parenting, the ones that matter the most, seem to be neglected.  I suppose I give myself a failing grade on the encounter for that reason.  Or maybe other parents just clean up while their kids are napping and prep before they wake up somehow, other parents give up their workouts and personal time for the sake of the child.

I'm not intending to rip on single parents here, but it makes me sad to think of how many kids don't have access to both of their parents at the same time.  I know what it was like to have 2 actively involved parents at all times I think it was pretty damn awesome.  I always had someone available to answer my questions, show me how to do something, or inspire me to think in different ways.  I know I don't want to be a single dad, and yet I don't have any idea how to insure against that possibility because no union of consenting adults can come with terms which would eliminate the bailout option.

I find it all so fascinating, these things I took for granted about being a kid were actually privileges that many other kids did not have.


  1. As a parent I disagree with a lot of this. Yes, it is great to have 2 active, attentive parents. You were very lucky and so was I. But, in this day it really can be more about the quality and not the quantity. You learn to deal. Your 18 mile run gets canceled because your 6 year old wakes up with a fever. Your desire to fold and put away laundry gets put on hold because you decided playing a game of uno with your daughter is more important. you stop cleaning up after your son and sit down and color eggs; the mess will be there but that time won't. I don't want to sound preachy. But, you just learn as you go. And as you go you make mistakes. Maybe I am offensive about the single parent thing? I don't know. I just know that the time I have chosen to be with the kids by not having a career, and the time I have with them now by not continuing with 500hrs of yoga or signing up for a long triathlon or putting off my immediate wants is amazing time, quality time. It is good to learn when to let go and just be in the moment with your child. I think that is where people are wrong. It would be amazing if every family fit the ideal structure of 2 parents, etc...But that isn't reality and doing the best that you can in each situation is what matters. Anyhow, I am glad you got to make eggs and I am sure that this time was very important to Cody. Well done with the salads!

    1. I was hoping for some good counterpoint from my single mom friends. Thanks for sharing. It seems you concede my point about 2 parents being preferable to 1 for a child's development? I'm sure anyone is better at the single parent thing than I am. I'm just saying that I don't embrace the single parent model, and yet I can't take steps to prevent it, so I'm even more bleak about the possibilities of a modern family than I was a year ago.

  2. KS said a lot of great things I agree with. It's a constantly evolving balancing/prioritizing act sometimes. Another thing to add is that being with 2 parents/adult that don't get along is no fun for anyone.

    Both R and I were at the Ferd cottage this weekend working on easter eggs for an hour or so together, while HK was downstairs fixing my car for me. Just now, 3 years after the split, we've reached the point where it was probably cool for the kids to have us both around.

    I didn't know BBBS didn't allow couples to mentor a child. That seems odd to me. And I definitely don't think you deserve a failing grade - that seems entirely too harsh. Would he have spent the afternoon coloring eggs at all if it weren't for you? I bet he had a lot of fun making brown.

  3. Yogger say, Suffer Seeker is an interesting, thoughtful, analytical, knowledge seeking individual. Usually. On this topic you are not. Your predispositions form a tough barrier that's been made nearly inpenetrable by your embittering experiences, and you only let in ideas that reinforce your opinions.

    As a seasoned, advanced parent, I will say, focus on the destination. Start with a newborn and think about the set of skills, experiences, morals, etc... that you want them to have when you set them off into the world. It's a long journey, and each one is personalized with its very own set of crazy pitfalls and unpredictable terrain, but upon encountering each obstacle, just try to keep making the best individual decisions you can to keep moving towards your goal destination. What you seem to be doing is obsessing over the perfect vehicle for the journey, which is ultimately as hopeless and unsatisfying as debating whether or not a 50k is an ultra.

  4. My definition of successful parenting can be summed up in two thoughts: Make a happy mess of things. Clean up later together.

    Apply this to all situations. The most important thing you can teach a child is how to learn, including learning to love and be loved.