a dad and his blog

While considering how much harder it must be for me, than for other parents, because of neuro diversity in our family, I realized that I know no one with normal children.

I mean, any friend who is actually honest with me, and has children, is facing really hard challenges and differences of one kind or another.

Every kid has their own differences.

Everything is a balancing act. I've said before that having 5 is not much more energy than having 1, because if you really care, you're going to give your kids all you've got.

I think I'm finally able to admit that having 5 can be, at times, more than having 1 :–)

But it's always about more than just the numbers.

It's about the individual kids. It's about the parents.

How much energy do I have? How much energy do they have?

I've got some neurodiversity in my brood. Which I sometimes feel makes it harder for me than for other parents of 5. That perhaps having 1 kid on the autism spectrum is harder than 5.

And yet I know that there are places far away on the spectrum, where one kid would be wayyyyy harder than my 5.

Long story short, it's really hard to compare your experience to ones you haven't lived.

Breathtaking. I know.

But no matter where you are in your experience, you always have to balance. How much to give, how much to reserve.

That's what I mean by 1 is the same as 5. Certainly the neediest times make it harder to find time for yourself, but there is always a question of “How much should I care right now?”

At the dinner table when one kid gets up without clearing the plate... is it worth calling them back to remind them?

When one kid puts out their foot to trip a sibling... but nobody falls... is it worth it to chastise?

What if it is the 20th time since lunch?

It's always balance and context.

And, for the most part, everyone tries to do their best.

Short side tangent

There's a saying “Kids do well if they can.”

My partner has a much improved version: “Kids do well when they can.” Which is a reminder that if your kid is having a hard time making the best choices right now, there is likely something inhibiting them right now. Maybe it's hunger, or Covid-19 induced fever hallucinations about napkins being living creatures whose bones you broke by unfolding it... whatever it is, kids generally don't LIKE to cause trouble.

I like her version so much better because everyone has times when they are able to make great choices, and when it's harder.... Which leads me to

Parents do well when they can.

Well the less frequent reminder is that “Parent's do well when they can.”

And that's where the balancing act comes in.

As parents we're constantly focused on our kids' present experiences. Their present behavior. Unanticipated accidents around the corner. Their future behavior. And (when we're lucky) our own experience as well.

It's a lot to think about, and to try to find the optimal place to put your energy.

Multiply that by however many kids you have.

Factor in the opinion of your coparent (should you be so lucky).

Add the judgement of other parents nearby,

And fuck the opinions of the non-parents watching you,

And you are solving a ridiculously complex equation just walking out the door.

Nevermind trying to enter a public place, or have a meal at a restaurant.

And so the real choices end up being: Do I intervene in my oldest calling my middle child an idiot? Or try to stop the twins from hitting each other with straws? Or take the second oldest to the bathroom? Or try to look at the menu to order? Or maybe I should just drink the coffee in front of me, so I'm not quite so tired so that I can do better.

What choice makes the smallest scene right now, makes my kids feel safe and protected, what will make them the best people, and what will make the next restaurant outing easier?

And how can I make it all sustainable?

So, moving the world is a balancing act. My choices depend on what I ate, how I slept, how my kids are treating eachother, and me. Sometimes we fall. But sometimes we're a family of 7 dancing on the high-wire.

With 5 kids, 10 and under, the chances that everyone is happy at once is lower than you'd wish.

With everyone's personal preferences about temperature, sound level, who they want to sit next to, and who has permission to look at who, it can be very challenging to have a quiet meal time.

Cross that with a belief that kids should be allowed to cry when they're sad, that expressing emotions is a good thing to do, and we're left with a conundrum. Domino theory implies that when one kid starts wailing, it's merely a matter of time until the stoplight hits red, as the decibels go through the roof.

So... when one kid starts at it, here's a quick trick that might work a few times:

Say “You're sooooo sad!” (Start by acknowledging their emotions. According to the text books, this is all you need to do ;–)

Then say “It's too loud here for us to cry, but I want to take care of you. I'm going to carry you to your room, and hold you while you cry. When you're all done, we can go back to the table.”

You aren't ostracizing or punishing them. You're loving on them, validating their right to feel strongly and express it, but also letting them know their impact on the rest of the family.

If it ends up that the crying is taking too long in their room, you can let them know “I'm really hungry right now, I'm going to go eat, and I can come back when I'm done. If you are all done crying first, come down and join us!”

Make them feel wanted and loved, and chances are they will be ready to join soooner rather than later.

There is a new wave of teaching kids about consent.

And don't get me wrong... that's a good thing.

With 4 boys under our roof, I want to make sure I do my part to ensure they won't rape, assault, or molest anybody.

But more than that, I don't want them to be silent bystanders or witnesses. I want them to be vocal outspoken allies, and loud bearers of human decency.

I want them to decry their peers commenting crudely about other people's looks, who they would “do” or the myriad of other “locker room” talk that is nothing more than misogeny.

But I digress.

My kid went to a preschool where consent was THE theme of the school.

They really wanted to make sure he understood, he is in charge of his body. And adults may not touch him without consent. And his peers cannot touch him without consent.

And again, don't get me wrong... I think that's a crucial part of giving our kids the tools to stand up for themselves, and not quietly accept abuse (sexual or otherwise).

But I think it would be better taught in the context of “you need consent before you touch someone else.”

That seems like a much better tack to reduce hitting, hair pulling, grabbing, tugging, and even spitting on.

And from it you can grow a sense of your own bodily autonomy.

As it stands, our kid learned to tell us “you can't touch me... I don't consent” as we try to hold his hand to cross the street.

And yet he has no problem climbing on us, or slapping his siblings on the back as he tears around the dinner table.

And while we're at it...

Tickling is the perfet platform to demonstrate and practice consent.

It is a fun playful interaction, that quickly turns from YES PLEASE to NO THANK YOU.

If you use it as an opportunity to model how to treat other people's bodies.

If you are tickling them to the point to the point that they can't talk, and you keep on going... What are you teaching them?

If you tickle them to that point and then STOP and ask “would you like me to stop or keep going?” You're modeling a much better way to handle touch and consent.

And giving them a sense of bodily control and autonomy.

Showing them how they should treat other people, while teaching them that they have the ability to decide how they want to be touched.

Winners all around.

By inducting your kids into the cult of your family from birth, you can have a much easier time instilling a sense of family unity from early on.

Now I don't have teenagers yet, so I can't tell you if it will help mitigate any of the anticipated turmoil, or rebellion, but I have to believe that inducing an intrinsic sense of belonging and family identity early on will have lasting subliminal impact (even if it seems distant for a decade in the middle there).

There are a few things we've done to create a family identity. Try the ones that seem up your alley.

Theme Names.

All of our kids names have a theme, but it's not obvious. They each know how their name relates to eachother, but if you saw a list of their names, it wouldn't be obvious. See if you can spot the pattern:

Spanky Spunky Slinky Stinky Marble

See how hard it is? That last one really throws you off! I'm kidding. Those aren't our kids names. But each of our kid's names relates to a different type of animal in way that is more or less obvious in a different way.

Individual Totem

This has led to each kid having their own totem animal, or class of animal.

And the impact on each kid so far has been profound. One kid is associated with sea animals. He doesn't like to eat seafood. He has tons of shark paraphernalia, and can breathe underwater.

Another kid prides himself in his ability to find things in nature, with his “eagle eyes” and has a penchant for finding and collecting beautiful feathers everytime he walks outside.

Another kid believes he has iron is teeth, and can eat sticks.

On a playful level, they each have superpowers, associated with their animals, and we've of course explained that they all share eachothers superpowers to some degree, in order to forestall the inevitible comparisons and competition.

This instills in each of them a sense of connection with nature on a deep level, and with eachother in a secret society kind of way.

Family Name

Of course we have a last name. But we also have a Family Name. Like how when our powers combine, you get Captain Planet's power, or Voltron is the sum of his parts.

Let's pretend our last name were “Sandovel,” well then our Family Name would be Sandove(anima)l.

When we are all on the move, we say “Sandove(anima)l, let's roll” and we motivate out together. It has a nod to the fact that they each have (animal) references, plays off of our last name, and has the word (anima) in it, which gives up a little spunk from the Spanish definition.

It gives a sense of pride and belonging and unification, that will hopefully tie them together when we're dead, and bring them connection even in the times in their life when they hate eachother (or us).

Personal Mottos

We've also created a unique affirmational personal motto for each of our kids that involves a pun in their name.

For example, if these were our kids names, Jenny, Bill, and John, these would be their sayings:

“To infinity and be John!” “Where there's a Bill there's a way.” “You can do Jenny thing.”

Each one is a private mantra that bolsters their true inner sense of self. Reminds them of their potential when things can be hard.

We all say them to eachother when we need them. And like their animal powers, they all can be shared. Bill can do “Jenny thing” we wants, and where there's a Jenny, there's a way too.

If you would like me to write a saying for you or your kid, please send $20 in bitcoin to me, and I'll send you one, or your money back.

Family Crest

Lastly, as a gift, a wonderful family member designed a family crest for us that incorporates all of our totems. She gave it to us as a vector image, that we have used over and over.

We have stickers, laser etched leather crests, mugs, tote bags and hats. Perfect gifts for all the grandmas.

Make it you.

Those are some of the ways our family does it. But do it your own way!

Do each of you have a secret State that is your home base, that you travel through?

Are each of you a color, that when put together makes a personal rainbow of green, red, orange, and purple? An innocuous four color arc, you will all recognize anywhere as a source of your combined beauty and power?

Do you each have an instrument, or a note you play? Is your family a chord? Or a band?

Sandove(anima)l out!

The world is conspiring against you.

Powerful secretive societies have invested billions (trillions?) of dollars in developing technologies and techniques to control your behavior.

They are all trying to get you to throw your money away.

And on average, it works.

So, one of the earliest lessons we teach our kids (besides the anatomically correct words for anus, vulva, and penis) is “Advertisements are trying to get you throw your money away.”

This is our actively repeated mantra, as we move through the world as a family.

When there's an advertisement on the radio we start saying “LA LA LA LA LA LA we won't through our money away!”

When the they're listening to has a crossover episode we say “they're trying to trick you in to throwing your money away!”

And that's one of the big reasons we don't have a TV. We do have a screen with a Chromecast, so they can watch shows and movies, but we try our hardest to not allow advertisements.

Why the F does Netflix not allow me to turn off the teaser promos for shows when casting from my phone to the screen. Why the F does my projector running Android not give me the ability to turn off teasers for shows??? We've ceded control over our desire to third parties

When our kids do see the big teaser on the screen with us there, we remind them “you're not allowed to watch that show, they're trying to trick you into wanting to watch it.”

When there's product placement in a movie, we say “I'll never buy an Audi now, because you're trying to trick me into wanting one.”

So hopefully, through this one little act of consumer rebellion, we are creating more conscious consumers. Consumers of media, and consumers of products.

And I've got a feeling there are positive knock on effects.

It is creating a culture of critical media consumption, making them more willing to question their entertainment, and eventually news sources.

I have a feeling rejecting advertisements will make my kids happier too. So many advertisements are based on creating a feeling of inadequacy in the viewer. “You're not beautiful enough.” “You don't travel enough” “You deserve a nicer car (cough cough crushing debt).” While I know those messages get in your brain as soon as you hear them (even if you know they are tricking you), I have to hope that talking back to them, literally, is helping our kids inner voices grow the ability to talk back to negative self talk in general.

And lastly I hope that this act of self-determinism, of positive assertion of autonomy of thought against mysterious corporations, will lay the groundwork for standing up for their own preferences, and tastes, and comfort level as they're increasingly faced with peer pressure.

Perhaps they'll be more likely to wear the clothing that makes them feel good, and less likely to make some naughty choice, because they can say “you're just trying to trick me” to their peers when they need to.

Phew, that was a long post that got me all riled up. When I'm riled up, I like to relax with a nice cold Brew Dr. Kombucha. I think I'll go get one now. I think it also helps get rid of my acne.

Sometimes you have to stop for ice cream.

Not always.

But sometimes.

Even if it is not on your schedule.

Even if you're late.

Even if it will run all down your shirt.

And you'll have to stop and wash your hands 3 times.

And it will fall on the ground.

And there will be tears.

Sometimes you just have to do it.

The secret to marital happiness lies in this post.

There's a paradox here. If both partners are doing the same amount of work, they will each feel like they are doing more than the other.

Why? Because you know every little thing that you do, but it's impossible to recognize everything that your partner does. And even if you did, you wouldn't value it the same way.

You, almost by definition, do the things that matter to you most. And so does your partner.

And herein lies the rub, even if both partners are doing the same amount, it will feel like the the other is doing less, and less important work.

So that sucks.

The only way to escape is to make it your goal to do more than your partner. And ideally have them approach the same goal!

Once you have mastered this, and gotten beyond using it as an excuse to do less, you can just the true secret. Once you are both trying to do more than each other, be able to afford a house cleaner. And hire one. There. That's the secret.

I always misunderstood Nature vs Nurture. It's not a question of which impacts who your kids will become.

It's an all-out frigging war.

And nature has the upper-hand. I'm fighting nature with all the nurture I've got, and I hope you're rooting for me.

In case I haven't mentioned it yet in this post, I have five kids. And they're all SOOOOO different in so many ways.

Raising our first kid (our only kid for the first 2 years), we interpreted our experience as “normal.” As if any parent copying our choices would have similar experiences. Their kids would have similar reactions and behaviors.

All of the good things we experienced we took credit for. And the hard parts we tried to figure out what we could have done differently.

Then we had a second kid, and suddenly we had two data points. It was enough to let us know that we had been sorely mistaken. Yes some of the things we had done with our first child worked the same, but others were yielded completely different results.

Kid 3 gave us yet more evidence that there weren't just “2 ways to be.”

And lastly, when we ended up with twins, we were provided a natural experiment that shows how kids in the same environment can be oh so different.

With our first kid, we were spending a lot of time talking with him about “complex emotions.” “What you're feeling right now is happiness mixed with nervousness.” This is “exhaustion combined with disappointment” as the ice cream fell to the ground after bedtime.

We felt so proud of ourselves. Helping our kiddo gain the language to understand and explain complex emotions at such a young age.

Then we had kid number two. And we didn't do it at all.

Had we just become such amazing parents that we had done it subliminally? Perhaps!

Until many years later, when it became clear that our oldest has autism.

That was the reason for the differences. For the need to explain what emotions are, how they are expressed, and how they can mix and match.

Nature dealt the cards, we were just playing them as best we could.

Then there was kid number two. At age three or four we noticed a speech impediment. He was almost unintelligible to other people.

But we could understand him... Why? because we are such amazing parents! We had spent years with his older sibling, learning to listen, with sign language, patiently interpreting what he was trying to say until we were good at it!

And then we were faced with the conclusion that we had caused his speech impediment... by understanding him! If we hadn't understood him, he would have learned to enunciate better... and wouldn't have a speech impediment.

Until kid number 5.

When kid number 5 started speaking the same way kid number 2 had, we weren't going to succumb to the same mistake. Every word we were able to make out, we made her repeat correctly.

And it didn't help.

Turns out, it was actually nature.

So there's your answer. And here's the silver lining. It means, that as a parent, you can blame everything bad on nature. And take credit for all the good as your nurture.

You're welcome!

Perhaps this post isn't even necessary? Or perhaps it is.

Writing a blog about parenting requires a certain amount of hubris.

And it inherently colors how you present yourself. I don't blog about my least proud parenting moments.

I look back at the things I thought when I was the parent of one child who was less than 2 years old.

Damn I thought I was a good parent then! Oh if I only knew.

When I hear “judge not lest ye be judged” I think whoever wrote that must have been a parent.

No matter how many experiences I have had, I know I can't know what another parent is going through when their kid is screaming in the middle of the restaurant.

Of course my first thought is “they're a horrible parent” but then of course, I think back to the many times my kids have freaked out a restaurant, and find a modicum of compassion.

So, this post is to go on the record and say: “it's not easy.” Yes I'm proud of some of my parenting choices, some of the tips and tricks we've come up with or learned over the years. But that doesn't mean we've got it figured out.

I'm not always the parent I wish I were.

And my tricks don't always work.

Sometimes my kids bite eachother.

Sometimes they kick eachother.

Sometimes I pick their bodies up and put them outside.

Sometimes the whole restaurant is staring at my eldest child wondering “What is wrong with that parent?” while I'm trying to shrink down in to nothingness.

And if you're the parent, for whom everything is easy: you've got it figured out, your kid is quiet, obedient, a creative and respectful genius... I see you judging me. I'll let you know I've got one of those. And they've shown me that it's not a result of parenting choices... The kid gets all the credit. So stuff it.

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