Navigating the Tricky Waters of Kids and New Partners

Once you’re divorced with a child, that is a background fact for the rest of your life. Nothing will change it.

I was scheduling a business lunch when I saw it – a reminder I’d placed in my calendar 10 months ago. I hadn’t thought about her in a while.

I never write in capital letters, but there it was, all in caps. A note setting a reminder for me, in capitals, marking the first anniversary of our meeting. I didn’t know at the time that it would be reduced to a mere forgotten event, a part of my past, but that’s what had happened. My first post-divorce relationship of consequence, and like many such relationships, it had failed. In spectacular fashion.

That wasn’t really what I had in mind when things started up between us.

What would have been our one-year anniversary fell on Friday, October 13th. I guess if I’d looked ahead and noticed that, I may have had a better sense of what was coming.

It began with one of those meetings that felt like kismet. I had a buddy who worked in a men’s store that featured high-end watches and pens. His new boss was tall, polite, and lovely to behold. Her best friend was less tall, more my type, and taking photographs of an event I’d been invited to attend. I had my four-year-old daughter in my arms and the last thing on my mind that night was romance.

Of course, that’s always when those things happen.

We started to talk. She was not a photographer by trade but was helping out her best friend for just the one event. Conversation flowed naturally, and I could sense her innate intelligence. I introduced my daughter, who can be very shy, and that didn’t seem to put her off even though not everyone wants to date a single dad. So far, so good.

Three days later, we went out for the first time. It was a pleasant meeting that morphed into a five-hour conversation. Our dialogue wasn’t hard to keep up, just the opposite. That gave me a bit of hope. I left with her telephone number in my cell phone.

We met each other again for dinner and drinks in downtown St. Petersburg, taking a long walk afterwards. We stayed around the parking garage talking before we went our separate ways. After that, we spent a lot of time on the phone at night during the work week. All this was building up to something and, finally, it did.

I’d been so busy laying a foundation for a relationship, balancing it with my work and the rest of life being a single dad, that I hadn’t yet worked out the full implications of my new romance for my little daughter. Now, I had to pivot and think on the fly.

In one sense, nothing changes. You’re still you. You’re just you with a young child.

In another sense, this is the moment when the pas de trois begins. You, your significant other, and your child are together in an emotional ballet, striving for balance in a world of complexity. You’re not sure when your child should meet your new love interest for the first time. You’re not sure how that will go. Do the three of you stay over at her place? If so, when and under what circumstances? Will they like each other, or just tolerate each other, or neither? Will there be cooperation or competition? Will you be able to successfully triangulate any tense moments and convert them into domestic harmony?

Questions like these don’t normally come with easy, let alone definitive, answers. You feel your way through as you go along. Much depends on the personalities involved.

Culture can also play a role in today’s increasingly mixed society. I found myself eating Polish food, decorating a Christmas tree in the traditional red and white Polish colors, and otherwise pivoting towards a culture not my own as I performed my own parental and relationship balancing act. That I had a great-grandfather named Zubrzycki didn’t help. If anything, it probably raised expectations of a cultural fluency that I plainly did not possess. And there I was, in the middle.

Once you’re divorced with a child, that is a background fact for the rest of your life. Nothing will change it. Complexities may vary in their extent, but they’re always going to be there and will never go away. Your life is now officially complicated. By definition.

In this relationship, a pattern quickly emerged that was not of my making nor consistent with my intentions.

After an initial, apparently-positive acquaintance with my daughter, my girlfriend and I spent most of our time together without my daughter and very little time as a group of three. That didn’t strike me as much of a template for the future, even if I saw and recognized the value of our private time together. I couldn’t see why things evolved that way, and in the end I wasn’t able to fix it.

In my next relationship, my daughter got on famously with the lovely woman I was dating. That relationship didn’t work out either, but she and I remain good friends and always will, I suspect. You can have an abundant respect for a person and not have the chemistry with one another that will carry you through time and challenges for years to come. That’s just how it is.

Between the two relationships, I ask myself why the daddy-daughter combination didn’t work in one instance and posed no obstacle in the other. I don’t really have an answer.

One thing I do know: the best relationship will surmount any challenge. Life is long and filled with them. Being a single parent isn’t something you have to be nervous about. It may even be an advantage, when viewed in a certain light. The relationship that was not going to work will self-destruct faster when you have a child of your own. The less-than-meaningful-or-ideal partnership will conclude much more quickly that the game is not worth the candle, so to speak. You’ll be furnished with a pretext to depart even if there isn’t a good reason ready to hand. That can be really good for you. You won’t waste time on a person who wasn’t going to be right for you anyway, and you’ll just find out sooner. That leaves you free to seek a better destiny with the right person. Then, maybe, with a bit of luck, your family can grow and even blossom again.

There’s another thing I learned that I will never forget. My daughter has incredible radar. It’s spot-on. She has a better sense of who is a good person than I do. Perhaps that’s a benefit of the young, uncomplicated mind. I don’t know for certain. But the next time I see that radar go up, I’ll take notice. Adults should learn from children, most of all their own.

It's Not Just a Statistic When It Happens to You

The bone marrow biopsy confirmed the news we dreaded and a whole new chapter of our lives began, one in which we never imagined ourselves participating.

It was New Year’s Eve and my son had been sick for weeks. After seeing doctors and even being admitted to the hospital, we had no plausible answer. But that morning my nearly four-year-old son couldn’t stand up anymore.

I tried calling the doctors he’d been seeing, the ones who couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but the only help they gave was suggesting that we go to the emergency room if we couldn’t wait for the next available appointment 10 days later.

We decided we couldn’t wait.

I didn’t want to pack an overnight bag, but I was trying to hedge my bets. I hoped that by being over prepared I would somehow generate some positive juju that would result in the emergency room doctors finding some random, simple answer that had been overlooked by everyone else for the past several weeks, send us home with a prescription or two for good measure, and we would be free to start the new year off with our family. In my mom-gut I knew that was wishful thinking.

My son has several other health problems and we are no strangers to the emergency room. That morning started off status quo: a quick stop at the triage station and sent back through a maze into a room while making small talk with a medical assistant. It was fairly quiet in the ER that morning, and the doctor rolled into our room in short order. After a brief review of Ben’s symptoms and a cursory examination, labs, an IV, and x-rays of the bum leg were ordered and the wait began.

Normally, once labs are drawn a nurse pokes her head in about a half hour later with a follow-up saying that everything looks pretty normal, but this time a whole entourage arrived. And they were nice. Too nice. Everything else faded from existence as the lead doctor told us about something called blasts in Ben’s blood and threw around words like “oncologist” and “bone marrow biopsy.” The staff positively doted on us, and I recoiled at every kind word and effort to provide comfort. These were not normal for a routine emergency room visit and I so desperately wanted this to be just routine.

A Physician’s Assistant arrived in our ER room, and his tone and demeanor were entirely different from the rest of the staff. Whereas for the emergency room staff this was an unusual case, for this PA, it was just what he did. It couldn’t have been more comforting. He laid out the outline of the day’s plans and made arrangements for Ben to be admitted to the oncology floor.

Arriving on the floor revived the rage in me that railed against this reality. This was not happening to us, childhood cancer only happens to other people! Once we got there, though, we found that this staff, who daily work with childhood cancer, were true superheroes and more than up to the task of caring not only for my son’s body, but our whole devastated family.

The bone marrow biopsy confirmed the news we dreaded and a whole new chapter of our lives began, one in which we never imagined ourselves participating. One that included blood transfusions, head shaving, and for Ben, over three years of chemotherapy.

Ben is now cancer-free, as is the case in his type of Leukemia about 90 percent of the time. Now, instead of focusing on saving our child’s life, we focus on raising awareness of childhood cancer. We realize that we’re the lucky ones, but that there are 10 percent who still don’t survive. We realize this because we met them in the treatment clinic, we became friends, and we grieve the recurrence and loss of life with those who started this path with us, just as hopeful and frightened as we were.

I like to consider myself empathetic and compassionate, seeking to put myself into the shoes of others. I’ve always considered childhood cancer a travesty, a cause worthy of support. Then it happened to my child, still just a preschooler. The travesty had landed on my sweet baby, the cause I considered worthy encompassed our whole lives. Suddenly it wasn’t just a St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital tearjerking commercial, it was our reality. There are no words to adequately convey the devastation of that reality.

If Moving Feels Like the End of the World, Help Your Kid Adjust With These Books

Moving to a new home can be a difficult experience for a child, especially if it means uprooting them from a familiar town or school.

Moving to a new home can be a difficult experience for a child, especially if it means uprooting them from a familiar town or school. Your decision may or may not be optional. Either way, processing the changes that are happening can be overwhelming for kids. Prepare your children by informing them early about a move and get them involved in the process, if possible. Give them plenty of information and encourage any questions. Books are also ideal before, during, and after the transition.

Moving can feel like the end of the world, but these books can help your child adjust to a new beginning:

BigErniesNewHOme

Big Ernie’s New Home: A Story for Young Children Who Are Moving

by Teresa Martin and Whitney Martin

Big Ernie is moving, and boy does he feel sad. And angry. And anxious. All his emotions related to the move are vividly detailed in this book for young children. By understanding how Ernie feels, they can relate and connect as they navigate their own feelings during this time of change. The back section includes notes and tips for parents.


MovingDay

The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day

by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Those country bears are on the move again, but, this time, Mama, Papa, Sister, and Brother are moving away from the mountains and into a new tree house down a sunny dirt road. Read along with your child as this classic literary family say their heartfelt goodbyes to old friends and open their tree trunk door to new ones.


AlexanderWhosNot

Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move

by Judith Viorst (Author) and Robin Preiss Glasser (Illustrator)

Alexander is back, and this day is much worse than terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad. This day is the worst ever! His family is moving a thousand miles away from the only home he’s never known. But he’s not going. And he means it.

“Roaming the neighborhood, he takes a look at his ‘special places’ and bids good-bye to all his ‘special people,’ announcing that ‘I’m saying good-bye-but it won’t be my last.’ By story’s end, after he lets some reassuring promises from his parents sink in, Alexander softens his tone, conceding that he, too, is packing up his things, but for the final time,” says Publisher’s Weekly.


TheKidIntheRedJacket

The Kid in the Red Jacket

by Barbara Park

If your child loved “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” than this middle-grade novel from bestselling author Barbara Park will hit the spot. “The Kid in the Red Jacket” chronicles Howard’s journey as his family moves away from his beloved home. How will he leave all his friends behind? And how will he ever make new ones? All the new kids act like he’s invisible, except his six-year-old neighbor, Molly Vera Thompson, who never stops talking. She’s the only one who wants to be his friend. When you have none, will you take anyone? Or will Howard stay alone?


AnastasiaAgain

Anastasia Again

by Lois Lowry

Twelve-year-old Anastasia is about to move from the city to the outskirts of town. The suburbs, as her family calls it. The thought of moving somewhere where all the houses look alike and people thrive on the latest and greatest has Anastasia questioning everything. How will she ever fit in? To make matters worse, a new and very annoying boy “like” likes her and she doesn’t like him at all. It’s not until she discovers a possible witch next door that things start looking up. Solving the mystery will take her mind off adjusting to a new home and a life with no friends.


Ghosts

Ghosts

by Raina Telgemeier

Catrina’s little sister, Maya, is sick, so her family moves to the coast of northern California. Although Catrina is not happy about leaving her friends and home, the cool, salty coastal air will help her sister’s cystic fibrosis.

When the family finally settles in, a neighbor tells the girls a secret: Bahía de la Luna is haunted by ghosts. Maya is determined to find one, but Catrina wants nothing to do with the quest. Then Maya gets sicker. Even though Catrina now finds herself at a new school with no friends and is petrified of the possibility of meeting an evil spirit, she must put aside her fears and sorrow to help her sister fulfill her dream of meeting a ghost!

“Telgemeier’s bold colors, superior visual storytelling, and unusual subject matter will keep readers emotionally engaged and unable to put down this compelling tale,” says Kirkus Reviews.


TheEssentialMovingJournalTeens

The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Teens

by Sara Elizabeth Boehm

Moving is stressful for children, especially teens. For some, they’ve lived their entire lives in one home and attended the same school. Their friends are like family and a move can be particularly upsetting. Help them adjust by having them share and document their feelings in this one-of-a-kind journal for teens.

Which books about moving have helped your kids with the transition? Share in the comments!

We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! Parent Co. is an Amazon Affiliate Partner and we will earn a small share of revenue if you decide to purchase a product using one of these links. By supporting us through this program, you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

6 Guiding Principles for A Successful Co-Parenting Partnership

There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love.

Getting divorced is never part of anyone’s five-year plan. How many women have walked down the aisle, gazed at their handsome groom, and thought, “I can’t believe I am going to be the future ex-Mrs. Jones? He is going to be a great ex-husband!” How many dads have locked eyes with their newborn sons in the hospital room and thought, “That’s my boy. I can’t wait to throw the ball around with him every other weekend.”
Zero, I imagine.
Divorce was never supposed to happen to us or to our kids. It takes us off the path we envisioned for our families. Once we get through the initial shock and awe that follows the divorce, divorcees struggle to define the new family relationships, including the ones with our ex-spouses. We are also left to learn new ways of co-parenting and to create a new village, or rebuild our existing ones, to help us care for our families. Co-parenting is no simple task.
I have had periods of extremely successful co-parenting with my ex. So much so that other parents are shocked to learn that we are indeed divorced. I have also been that mom who has been (embarrassingly) engaged in full-on verbal battle with my ex at a school event. There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love. Not romantic love, of course, but human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love. How do we accomplish this post-divorce, even in the most contentious relationships? We keep it simple, start small, and remember it is all for the children. As you continue on your journey of co-parenting, consider adopting the following behaviors:

1 | Accept what is

“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” – George Orwell
We must accept the end of the marriage before we can enter into a healthy co-parenting relationship. This means no more what-iffing, no more blaming, and no more hating. If you are still trying to figure out why or how the marriage ended, it will blur your ability to treat your ex in a loving way. Do not rush yourself through this important process. You will come to acceptance at your own pace. When you are at acceptance you will feel it in your soul. Your children will mention something about your ex-spouse and you will not shudder at the sound of their name, you will not feel defensive or competitive, and you will recognize and appreciate the love in your child’s eyes for your ex.

2 | Make a conscious decision to put the children first every day

“That was the day she made herself the promise to live more from intention and less from habit.” – Amy Rubin Flett
Live with intention. Find a way to remind yourself that today you will put the children first and you will treat your co-parent with love and respect. Create a mantra and repeat it as needed. “Model loving behavior” is my newest mantra and I repeat it to myself over and over throughout the day. It is a simple reminder that I want my children to see me as an instrument of love.

3 | Compliment your ex

“Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.” – Proverbs 11:27
When your children share a story with you about your ex, challenge yourself to complement your ex’s parenting. My son shared a story with me about a fun game he played at soccer practice. His dad is the coach and I took this as an opportunity to model loving behavior. “Wow, Dad seems like a really fun coach. You are so lucky to have such a great dad.” Emmet’s eyes lit up. There are so many opportunities to show your kids that you see good in their other parent.

4 | Say sorry

“Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” – Ezra T. Benson
If you mess up and talk down to or about your ex in front of the kids, do the right thing and apologize. The ego must be set aside when co-parenting. My children recently witnessed me yelling at my ex about the soccer uniform he forgot to pack for the upcoming weekend. I later said to my ex in front of the kids, “I am sorry I lost my patience before and talked to you disrespectfully.” I apologized for one reason and one reason only: the kids. It did not matter who was at fault. I wanted to set a good example for my children and ease any tension that the previous argument may have caused their adolescent, yet complex minds.

5 | Keep some pre-divorce traditions

“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” – Susan Lieberman
My ex and I still celebrate our children’s birthdays together. We meet up in one of our homes to celebrate the birthday child together with smiles, laughs and memories. It is a priceless gift to the birthday child. It offers a full family tradition for their memory bank and it models loving behavior and well-placed priorities.

6 | Learn from your mistakes

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intellectually.” – Henry Ford
It is okay to mess up as a parent and an ex-spouse. It is an opportunity for growth. When you find yourself breaking one of you own personal co-parenting commandments, hold yourself accountable. Spend some time before bed, reviewing your behavior for the day. Where did you go wrong and how do you feel about it? Acknowledge it, determine how you could have handled things better, and let it go. Be aware and be willing to change, but do not beat yourself up.
My 13-year-old daughter recently commented in the car, “Mom, I feel so lucky because even though you guys are divorced, you are still good friends.” This simple comment serves as concrete evidence that we have been doing something right for the past six years. Behind the scenes, we are not actually the best of friends and there is a lot of tension and
conflict regarding finances, rides to sporting events, and medical and educational decisions. Children are resilient and their love is unconditional. They hold on so tightly to the positive and are quick to release the negative. They love us for us and they forgive fully and easily with a heart full of love. We can learn so much from them if we remain open-minded.
Post-divorce parenting is a challenge, but it sure does build character, strength, and resilience. No matter what, you are doing something right. And if you begin to question that, look at those beautiful children. They are that pat-on-your-back that you so deserve. It is not easy, my divorced comrade, but remember, you are not alone and it is worth it!

Teen Moods: They Are Not About You

When a simple conversation with your teen feels more like pulling teeth, remember that this is not personal. It’s simply a symptom of adolescence.

My 13-year-old daughter literally cringes when I touch her. Any attempt at showing affection to my once cuddly and affectionate daughter is now met with resistance. You know, the I’m-a-teen-and-I’m-way-too-old-for-this attitude that consumes our children sometime between the ages of 11 and 16.

When I fall victim to this melancholy temperament, I’m quickly driven into a mental frenzy, trying to determine what I did wrong to deserve this. Is she still upset that I said Piper couldn’t sleep over this weekend? Is it punishment for the divorce that was finalized six years ago? Did I forget to say I love you this morning or did I say it too loudly as she left for school?

As a self-admitted control freak, I take the obvious next step to getting my desired outcome of capturing a small hint of the younger, softer version of my daughter: I try too hard. I ask too many questions and the tension grows.

“Who did you sit with at lunch today?” I don’t really know what else to say to get the conversation started.

“I don’t know, Mom,” she replies.

“Well, did you sit with Megan?”

“Mom! Why do you care?” Her agitation grows.

She’s on to me. I’m trying too hard. Reel it in, Mom, reel it in. New approach: bribery.

“Do you need something new to wear to the dance this weekend?” Bribery always works.

“No, I have something.”

Damnit.

“Who wants to go get ice cream?” I ask, thinking if I excite her two younger siblings with promises of hot fudge sundaes, she may lighten up too. She agrees. Ice cream it is.

I turn the music up and think how lucky she is to have a mom who listens to Selena, Taylor, and even DJ Khaled. Does she know what other moms listen to? She doesn’t have a clue just how cool I am. I sing loudly, dance as I drive, and think about what a cool mom I am. I may be 40 in age, but I’m only 27 in spirit.

“OMG Mom, that guy is watching you dance. Stoooop!” She says at the first red light.

Hey, I’m trying here! Doesn’t she realize that everything I’ve done since I picked her up at school was an effort to feel like her mom again? The mom who she would crawl into bed with every night at four years old? The mom she used to dance with in the living room? The mom she used to ask for help with homework? What has happened and how can I stop this? I want my daughter back, now!

I often view the symptoms of adolescence as evidence that I’m doing something wrong. I think I can control my daughter’s actions and reactions. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that the more I try to control her, the farther away I push her. Teens are unpredictable. One minute, they are chatty and happy and full of laughter and the next they’re sulky, withdrawn, and lethargic. Overnight, our precious and dependent children transform into mini-adults, struggling to become independent thinkers who desperately want to rely less and less on Mom and Dad.

My daughter is coming of age. This is a crucial time in her life and, though I may not recognize the 13-year-old whose shorts are getting shorter and legs are getting longer, I realize that I must let go and embrace these transformative years. They are, after all, practice for adulthood.

When a simple conversation feels more like pulling teeth, remember that this is not personal. It’s more likely that your teen feels safe with you, and she’s testing the boundaries of independence while asserting her individuality more. It’s not about your parenting skills or lack thereof, it’s not about the clothes you wear or the dance moves you bust out in the living room. It’s simply a symptom of adolescence. This is a good thing. When the going gets tough, remember these tenets:

This is temporary

This will not last forever. Your teen will mature into an independent adult. It’s inevitable. One day, you will look back and laugh at the moodier days and how it all went down. So when it feels like the storm is too big to battle, hold strong, Mom and Dad, for this too shall pass.

You are enough

It’s very intimidating to witness your child morph into a teen and young adult before your very eyes. It can feel like the entire relationship has changed. It’s okay to feel lost at times. Do not overthink it. Do not force conversations. Quiet air is okay. Distance is okay. Just be you. Discipline and love with consistence. Tell your corny jokes even if she rolls her eyes. All she wants you to be is the person she loves: you! She may not say it or show it, but she loves you unconditionally for you. Do not believe anything less.

She wants to be loved

She may cringe when you hug her or never be the first to say “I love you” anymore, but don’t stop on your end. Say “I love you” just as much as you always have, more if you’re brave. Find new and creative ways to show affection if hugs don’t do it anymore. Put post-it notes with words of encouragement on her mirror. Text her jokes or riddles from work. Let her pick the menu for dinner.

Find ways to express your love that don’t require a formal acceptance from her. It’s tempting to back off when your attempts at affection are met with resistance, but challenge yourself to find new methods of expressing your love. Respect her boundaries, but never stop showing her you love her just as she is, moodiness and all.

Put your fear aside

Underneath my parental anxiety is fear: fear of losing the relationship as I know it, fear of losing her unconditional love, and fear of failure. Fear is a liar. You will not lose your teen or her love. As she matures and learns life’s lessons, your relationship is sure to go through its own transformation, but trust the process. Trust that the love and bond you share will survive whatever is to come. Believe with conviction that you are a great parent. Recognize your underlying fears and put them aside. Offer your daughter the space and unconditional love she needs to become her adult self.

Your teen is on a journey to independence. You are her coach, mentor, and number-one fan. Love her with all you have and trust your parental instincts. The bumpiest journeys offer the best lessons, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

How to Help Your Kids Cope With Natural Disasters

Believe it or not, helping your kids through a natural disaster starts long before the natural disaster strikes.

No matter where you live in the world, at some point you’ll likely face at least one type of natural disaster, whether it’s a simple thunderstorm, a long power outage from a snowstorm, flooding, an earthquake, or even a house fire. Such events can be stressful and traumatic for adults. As parents, we also worry about protecting our kids and helping them get through natural disasters.

I live in Houston, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have a lot of work for both physical and emotional recovery. In the process, we can’t forget our kids are recovering from trauma as well.

Make a plan

Believe it or not, helping your kids through a natural disaster starts long before the natural disaster strikes. Create an emergency plan in advance and discuss it as a family. When or if a disaster comes, hopefully you and your children can act more quickly, calmly, and efficiently.

Michaela Fuller, a Houston resident and mother of three, often talked about her family’s contingency plans over the phone with out-of-town family. One day, as she told her children to put on their shoes quickly and get in the car, her son asked, “Is it time to abandon the house?” Although young, he was aware of the plan and wanted to make sure his family followed it to keep them safe.

Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t fully prepare you. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, although weather experts knew it would be extreme, they couldn’t predict how badly the rainfall and flooding would affect the Houston community. However, a family emergency plan gives you a better chance during a crisis.

Make it as fun as you can

Sometimes you can make the situation light and fun. If you’re seeking shelter from a tornado at night, collect everyone for a family sleepover. During power outages, bust out the board games and get creative with games and food recipes. Obviously, try to stay appropriate with jokes or light discussion about the situation according to what you and your children can handle and the severity of the natural disaster.

As a Houstonian whose house wasn’t flooded in Harvey, I’ve been aiding my neighbors and friends in Houston muck out their homes. Some of the homeowners I’ve met, while devastated to lose so much, joked that they had too much stuff anyway. They smiled and focused on what they did have. It has boosted everyone’s morale.

Although I appreciated seeing lighthearted footage of people kayaking in the Harvey flooding, I winced seeing people, especially kids, swim in it. With debris of all kinds (including sewage), alligators or snakes in the water, and the potential of getting swept away, it isn’t worth the risk of getting sick, hurt, or killed just to amuse yourself.

Keep your kids close

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) young children feel most insecure about being left alone and getting separated from their loved ones. As the natural disaster occurs and also afterwards, try to keep your children physically close to you. Hug them and verbally reassure them you’re all together and safe.

That being said, after the disaster, try to resume your normal routine as much as possible. Continue normal bedtimes as you are able. As daycares and schools reopens, return to routines that are comforting to children, but be aware that children will likely be extra clingy and need extra care and reassurance.

Be honest with your kids

In accordance with their ages, communicate to your children the facts of the situation both during and after. In many instances, they need to know the facts so they can use the plan you’ve created or at least understand what’s going on. Many sources, including FEMA, recommend limiting media exposure and conversations that children may overhear to content appropriate for their ages, their sensitivities, or your specific situations to prevent any further trauma.

Also, let them express their feelings honestly. You feel fear and should talk about it with another adult, so let your children do the same with you or a counselor. Their feelings are just as valid, and talking about them will help children heal after a crisis.

Give them control

As helpless as you feel in a potentially devastating situation, remember that children likely feel even more so. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, adults need to try to give children power over at least a few daily choices so they have some control over their lives. It can be as little as what game to play or song to sing next. Any amount of control you can give them only adds to feelings of security.

Read books with them

As with just about any topic in life, there are children’s books about facing and recovering from natural disasters. Some include familiar characters children know and love, such as Clifford, while others include no words at all. Choose whichever ones you think will be the most helpful for your children.

Let them help

Allow and encourage your children to participate in the physical recovery process in age-appropriate ways. Although seeing their own belongings destroyed can be heartbreaking for anyone, older children can feel closure and a sense of control if they’re the ones throwing out their damaged possessions or at least contributing to the cleanup effort.

Especially for kids and families who weren’t affected by natural disasters, encourage your children to join the aid effort for other families. Showing compassion increases gratitude and awareness of the needs of others. I’ve worked alongside several teenagers mucking out houses, and they have shown amazing work ethic to help those in need. Other kids went door-to-door delivering lunches for those of us working in houses. The kindness we’ve seen has brought so much unity and support in our community, and our children should see and be part of it as much as possible.

Be patient

If children have been directly or indirectly affected by a natural disaster, they may regress to younger behavior such as bed-wetting, separation anxiety, or thumb sucking. Sometimes when they lack the ability to verbally express their feelings, children can develop negative behaviors such as aggression, depression, and others.

As you spend more time with your children, reassuring them that you are all together and safe and listening to their concerns and feelings, those behaviors should subside in the days, weeks, or months after the events.

Get help

If regressive behavior or symptoms of PTSD continue – or just to supplement your own efforts to help your children cope – please consider seeking professional counseling for yourself and your children. Many agencies provide resources and guidance for children’s mental health recovery.

Even if you decide you don’t want a counselor’s help, still use a support network to buoy up you and your children, including friends, family, your kids’ teachers, and other community members. The road to recovery for those who endure major disasters is long, expensive, and difficult. If you have weathered a natural disaster, it doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders alone to heal and sustain your family.

Those Thoughts Don't Make You a Bad Mom – They Make You Human

At one point or another, you’ll feel it. You will. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll get tired of being so completely depended upon. You’ll miss your freedom.

I wanted to run away from my kids yesterday.

Everything just came crashing down all at once. There were several factors at play: I just felt tired, alone, like everything was on me, and that I had no way out.

Motherhood has this way of consuming every atom capable of feeling love in your body, and then multiplying each and every one at an exponential rate. It can make you want to sacrifice everything and anything for another person, without having to think twice. It is exhilarating, beautiful, and fulfilling.

Motherhood also has another side, a side we feel guilty talking about. We shouldn’t really talk about it, right? I sound ungrateful. I’ve been blessed with the privilege of raising these amazing children. I shouldn’t complain. I could have it a lot worse. I should focus on the positives because the negatives will just bring me, and others, down.

The truth is that, at one point or another, you’ll feel it. You will. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll get tired of being so completely depended upon. You’ll miss your freedom. You’ll think back to when you were just you and only had to take care of yourself, and you’ll miss that. You’ll miss the luxury of thinking to yourself, “I think I’ll go to bed now,” and then waking up when you decide you’re ready to do so. You’ll miss sitting in a cafe reading a book for three hours. You’ll miss shopping alone, without any time restrictions and without having to do the mommy-jiggle-shake-bounce while you try and lull that ticking-time-bomb baby to sleep as you hurriedly examine ingredient lists and price tags.

You’ll miss how you were as a couple. You’ll miss your decadent two-person holidays and your lazy, late Sunday morning brunches. You’ll miss staying up to watch a movie on a Friday night without worrying about whether you just heard someone cry on the baby monitor, or frantically calculating how many hours of sleep you might get if you bite the bullet stay up another hour.

What’s my problem? Did I seriously just have these kids so that I could wish to be alone and unattached again? I need to get over myself.

I remember when my secondborn was about three weeks old, my husband and I decided to go for a walk and get some ice cream. I had her in the carrier, and my husband was pushing our older daughter in her stroller. I hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time since the baby was born. My body was still recovering from a C-section. I was only comfortable in my maternity clothes because nothing else really fit, and the furthest journey we were willing to make as a brand-spanking-new family of four was 500 meters down the road. As we walked along the pavement, I had a terrible, horrible, selfish, unthinkable thought brewing in my head, and I was so nervous to say it out loud to my husband because I could just hear how awful it sounded. I gathered up the courage and just blurted it out.

“Do you ever miss life without kids?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

He answered so quickly and confidently that relief flooded my heart so fast I nearly cried. Heck, given my hormonally-volatile state, I probably did cry.

I read an article shared by a friend last week about how mourning the loss of our pre-motherhood selves has a big, fat, giant “taboo” sticker on it. The article struck such a huge chord with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then, because that’s exactly what I’m going through right now.

Motherhood demands the impossible from you sometimes. You have to constantly give more and more and more of yourself. Just when you think that you’re spent, you’re all out, you really have nothing left, you have to search every last corner of yourself and give more.

You start to desperately crave simple things, like leaving the house on your own to do whatever the hell you want with one small handbag and no promises as to when you’ll return.

You dream of spending an entire day on your own: reading, shopping, running, singing, writing, going to a spa, driving a car, eating a meal with a knife and fork at the same time, and drinking a hot coffee as soon as it arrives at the table.

You wonder what it was like when no one physically depended on you for all of their nutritional needs. Or when you could eat or drink whatever you pleased without having to worry about how it might affect someone else.

You want to look at your hair in the mirror and think, “I need a haircut,” and then book that haircut for tomorrow without having to plan and strategize and think about pumping, naps, and feeding schedules.

You want to spend hours – hours – at a grocery store or a mall, browsing to your heart’s content without checking your watch or your phone, or wondering if you should head back just in case, even in the absence of someone immediately needing you.

You want to feel like you aren’t asking for permission or a favor when you want to leave the kids with your husband or whoever else and have some me-time. It’s funny, because it’s only you that feels that way, but that limitation you set on yourself only adds to the feeling of being stuck, and only makes that motivation to do something for yourself, and only yourself, harder to find.

The truth is, we are forever changed because of our children. We can’t switch off. I know they’ll be 25, independent, and totally self-sufficient one day, and I’ll still be wondering if they’re okay.

So I’m going to book that haircut. I’m going to go on that shopping trip. I’m going to get that massage. I’m going to read my book at that cafe (but maybe only for an hour). I’m going to chase that dream that I put on the back-burner because I thought the timing just wasn’t right. I’m going to go for a run. I’m going to take care of me, because in order to properly take care of someone else, I need to be okay, too.

I’m going to reclaim as much of myself as I can while accepting that I am not the “me” I once was, and there is nothing wrong with that. We grow, we change, we evolve. Nothing is static and things rarely go back to exactly what they used to be.

We need to be okay with admitting the hard parts, though. That new mom who feels like her world is falling apart and that she’s doing it all wrong needs you to assure her that, yes, some of this really, really sucks. It’s hard, and you’re not a bad mom for feeling that. You’re not a bad mom for wistfully thinking back to when you didn’t have kids.

You’re not a bad mom for thinking, “I miss just being me.” You’d be surprised how many of us have thought that exact same thing.

This post was originally published here.

Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books for Fall/Winter 2017

This fall and winter, the new titles on the horizon are destined to leave their mark on your middle schooler.

Middle grade is an exciting time for your child. Filled with wonder and exploration, these impressionable years are some of the most memorable. Tucked within all the moments we hang onto for the rest of our lives are the books we hold closest to our hearts. And this fall and winter, the new titles on the horizon are destined to leave their mark.
Here are the most anticipated middle-grade books for fall/winter 2017:

All'sFaireInMiddleSchool

All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson (September 5, 2017)

Raina Telgemeier fans will love this new book from Victoria Jamieson, the Newbery Honor-winning author of “Roller Girl.” 11-year-old Imogene (Impy) Vega, the home schooled daughter of parents employed at the local Renaissance fair, is entering public school for the first time. She’s eager to begin training as a squire, but first must prove her bravery. Attending a new school is the perfect test! Or so she thinks. When she does something mean instead of brave to fit it with the other kids, life takes an unexpected turn. Can she redeem herself and earn squire status? Or will she be forever remembered as “the mean girl?”


Wishtree

Wishtree

by Katherine Applegate (September 26, 2017)

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. “Wishtree” tackles the heavy topic of prejudice after a Muslim family moves into the neighborhood. Told from the perspective of Red, a 200-year-old oak tree that listens to everyone’s wishes, the book navigates empathy and hope in a time of profound change. “Red’s openhearted voice and generosity of spirit bring perspective gained over centuries of observation. It’s a distinctive call for kindness, delivered by an unforgettable narrator,” says Publishers Weekly.


ThingsThatSupriseYou

Things That Surprise You

by Jennifer Maschari (August 22, 2017)

Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. Although she’s excited, she not nearly excited as her best friend Hazel who thrives on change. As Emily begins to navigate this new chapter in her life, at home things begin to fall apart – again. Her sister’s eating disorder creates tension and worry. “Recommended for middle grade collections, especially for readers with friends or family members dealing with eating disorders,” says School Library Journal.


Thornhill

Thornhill

by Pam Smy (August 29, 2017)

“Thornhill” features parallel plot lines, one told in prose and one in art, set at different times. One story line, from 1982, tells about Mary, a lonely orphan who lives at Thornhill Institute. The other follows Ella in 2017 as she first moves to town. The story lines converge as Ella discovers Mary’s diary and unravels the mystery of the abandoned building next door – and the ghost that calls it home.


ThRoadtoEverAFter

The Road to Ever After

by Moira Young (November 14, 2017)

Davy David is an orphan who lives by the seat of his pants in the dead-end town of Brownvale. After Davy discovers a stray dog, a magical journey unfolds. Together, they end up at an old deserted museum and meet the elderly recluse, Miss Flint. She has planned one final trip before her time on earth is done, and asks Davy and the pooch to accompany her. As they set out, and as the miles pass, Davy realizes Miss Flint is getting younger and younger with every step.


LaughOutLoud

Laugh Out Loud

by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein (August 28, 2017)

Jimmy loves reading. So, he starts a book company for kids and run by kids. Some people laugh at him. What 12-year-old starts a business? The naysayers don’t stop Jimmy from dreaming big. In this hilarious book from the popular James Patterson and company, kids will learn that they have the power to achieve anything they set their minds to. “Patterson and Grabenstein emphasize that dreams can come true if you take action and never give up. Fans and educators alike will appreciate the many kid lit authors and titles mentioned throughout. A humorous adventure with a positive message,” says School Library Journal.


TheCareandFeedingofaPet

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole

by Michelle Cuevas (September 12, 2017)

After visiting NASA, Stella is followed home by a lonely, hungry black hole. It attempts to live in her house like a pet, but swallows everything it touches. Although it’s inconvenient, it’s also a fantastic way for Stella to get rid of all the things so no longer wants around. All the ugly sweaters her aunt made her. The smelly class hamster she’s supposed to take care of for a month. All the reminders of her deceased father. Gone. It’s not until the entire family and dog are gobbled up that Stella realizes it’s been her own grief that’s been consuming her.


OnceYouKNowThis

Once You Know This

by Emily Blejwas (September 19, 2017)

Brittany knows there must be a better life out there for herself, her mom, and her baby brother. One day, she works up the courage to make that life a reality. Will her dreams come true? “This debut novel by Emily Blejwas is perfect for readers who love emotionally satisfying books. Thoughtful and understated, it’s the hopeful story of a girl who struggles to make her future bright – and the makeshift family that emerges around her,” says Junior Library Guild.


TheStarsBeneathOurFeet

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

by David Barclay Moore (September 19, 2017)

It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but Lolly Rachpaul and his mother aren’t feeling too festive. They’re still emotionally distraught from the death of Lolly’s brother, who was recently fatally shot. Soon after, Lolly is approached by a gang like the one that killed his brother. They pressure him into joining, but when Lolly refuses, he and his friends are beaten up and robbed. Will he give into the pressure? Or stay his ground? David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge.


Slider

Slider

by Pete Hautman (September 12, 2017)

Competitive eating nearly swallows family and friendship in this one-of-a-kind book about choosing the right path. “With crystalline prose, delectable detail, rip-roaring humor, and larger-than-life characters, Hautman gracefully examines what it means to be a friend, a family member, and, through it all, a kid trying to do the right thing,” says Booklist.
What middle grade books are your kids excited for this fall and winter? Share in the comments!

I'm Calling it My "Miscourage"

If one in four women have miscarriages, why isn’t it talked about more commonly?

I already have a gorgeous little girl and we’d always planned to have two kids, but from the moment we first found out I was pregnant again, I had this little niggle. “What if things went wrong?” There was no reason to worry. I’d had a child before, so I quickly put the worry to the back of my mind.

I started telling a few very close friends, and my family knew from about six weeks. I personally feel that it’s good that a few people know as it’s good to have a support network around you when you’re pregnant. I got to 11 weeks and even told people at my workplace, especially as I had my scan coming up. All the symptoms were there throughout: awful sickness, exhaustion, swollen boobs.

A week before my scan, I started spotting. I was pretty scared. It wasn’t something I’d experienced in my first pregnancy so obviously alarm bells rang, even though this can be something completely normal and happens to lots of women who go on to have healthy pregnancies.

I called the early pregnancy unit and they booked me in a couple of days later. Those days before I was on a massive wave of emotion. Every time I went to the toilet, I panicked if anything was different. I spent most of the weekend in bed thinking that if I rested, it would all stop and everything would be okay.

My husband came with me to the hospital. I found the waiting room one of the most difficult places to be. You see some women visibly upset, obviously their worst fear confirmed. Some apprehensively clenching their partner’s hands, waiting for good or bad news, praying it’s the former. We all know why we’re there. You try not to catch each other’s eye as you wouldn’t know how to respond. It’s so surreal. You wonder whether you’re going to be relieved or devastated. Like a rollercoaster ride, your stomach is churning the whole time.

We were called in and I lay on the bed. I’d prepared myself to hear bad news, and it was. Something had gone wrong, probably fairly early on. I remember that, even though I’d prepared myself, it was still a massive shock. They had to check a few times to be sure (lots of probing) and even then I was told that, as my placenta was a certain size, I needed a scan again a week later to confirm it. It was pretty horrible. Part of me wanted to cling to the very small hope that it was going to be okay, but the rest of me deep down knew it was not. I wanted to know now. I did not want to wait for another week!

I was told I had to go back to the waiting room – back to that same place where others have been told the exact same news and some who had happier news – and a nurse would come and speak to me about my options. I’d not even thought about options. I was only just processing what had happened and was now about to be told all about the physical process I had to go through! As it’s something I’d never experienced before or ever thought about, I had no clue about all these options. It felt so matter-of-fact, cold, and procedural.

The nurse was helpful, telling me that it was very likely a chromosomal issue, the fetus would never have developed properly, and it’s just “one of those things that can happen.” That’s what many tend to say to try and make one feel better (I appreciate that for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to know what to say), but something like this is difficult to accept.

I remember trying to be so practical and distance myself from it emotionally – “I won’t be pregnant on holiday, so I can drink” – almost anything to avoid the reality of the situation. When you’re told bad news, it’s amazing how the brain works to process things and all the different emotional stages you go through. You can never anticipate how you’ll react initially when you experience grief or loss.

We discussed my options. One – let it happen naturally. Two – take a tablet at hospital to speed things along. Three – an operation under general anesthetic. Four – an operation under local anesthetic so I would be awake for the whole thing. Err, none of the above, please! When I did think about it later, I knew I didn’t really want to prolong it. I just wanted to get it over with so I decided that, depending on the outcome of the following week’s scan, I’d have an operation. I really didn’t want to but was terrified about the prospect of going through it naturally, not knowing when or how long it would take.

When we got back to the car, I burst into tears. Looking back now, I’m glad I did. I’m not a machine. I needed to allow myself to just go through the motions, no expectations, and no pressure for feeling or not feeling a certain way.

It turned out that I didn’t have to wait another week. It started to happen naturally. I’m not going to lie, it was awful. It happened over four afternoons for a couple of hours and then stopped. The pain was really intense. It got gradually worse over the days. At one point I remember singing really loudly, to try and take my mind off it but, in a weird way, it helped me focus. Sounds silly, but it got me through it.

I was actually visiting my sister and new nephew when the worst of it happened, and I’m actually glad I was. It was strangely cathartic to go through it in a different house but surrounded by my family. Even though I physically experienced it on my own, they were there for me to talk through it if I needed to. Once I knew it was largely over, I was relieved. In the days that followed, I gradually felt better. I was off work a total of two weeks, which really helped, but I think in the end I needed to go back to some sense of normality. (That’s how I felt. Everyone feels differently, no one goes through exactly the same experience.)

When I went back for the scan the following week, they confirmed it was all gone. “It,” a weird word really. It was never a baby, it didn’t even get to be a fetus properly, but it still seems cold to say “it.”

I think the hardest thing for me was that I did feel very alone, even though my husband, family, and close friends were great supports. When you lose someone you love, like a friend or family member, you share the grief. It’s not easy to do this when you’ve had a miscarriage. It was never brought into the world but it’s still a great loss. I wanted to share how I felt but I wasn’t sure who to share it with. I needed a support network but felt like I didn’t know anyone who’d experienced this too. There were a few online stories but I didn’t know of any one specific place to go.

If one in four women have miscarriages, why isn’t it talked about more commonly? It’s so common! There’s a 25 percent chance you will miscarry in the first 12 weeks. When a statistic is this high, why does it still feel like such a taboo subject to talk about? I think there’s a whole stigma about not telling people before you get to 12 weeks, “just in case.” I understand why, if this statistic is anything to go by, but that doesn’t help you emotionally. 12 weeks is a long time. You go through perhaps the hardest bit in the first 12 weeks! All those awful symptoms, many of which are really difficult to hide. I think, if it feels right, you should be encouraged to let people know, helping to increase the knowledge about miscarriage if things, God forbid, should go wrong.

I found it more difficult, post-miscarriage, speaking to others. It must be difficult for people who haven’t experienced it to know what to say. I found that when I opened up about it, some people would almost recoil and seem uncomfortable. It made me feel awkward and very lonely, especially when I wasn’t with my husband. He’d been a massive support to me through it all and he had to go through how he felt about it too. I suppose in some way, you can’t dwell on it either but you need to work through things in your own way.

I can only imagine it must be even tougher for boyfriends or husbands to share how they feel. The focus is on the woman who’s going through it physically and mentally, but I feel strongly that the man in the situation should be supported too and have someone to speak to. You both experience the loss.

If I’m honest, the thought of getting pregnant again is scary. I know I’m going to worry that much more than I would if I hadn’t gone through a miscarriage. I know it sounds stupid but I felt like it was a waste of time. I’d got to 12 weeks (or so I thought) and will have to go through the same pregnancy symptoms again at some point, but I won’t give up on the things I want. That’s the key really. Don’t stop trying just because life’s thrown you a curveball. We all have a strength in us that is only realized when we go through personal tragedy, whatever that may be. Keep going. I know I will.

Father First, Tough Guy Fireman Second

Let me tell you about the time a “tough” fireman was reduced to a slobbering, sniveling mess in the arms of his then-two-year-old daughter.

Let’s talk about being a father when you’re in public safety – whether it’s Police, Fire, or EMS. I’m a father of three (soon to be four) beautiful little girls. Some of you that know me personally understand just how much those little girls run my life. So you should know that when I proudly proclaim, “I am the king of the house,” it only applies if my wife and daughters aren’t there. Once they get home, I’m more of a court jester.
That said, every day I’m on shift I get up, strap on my tough guy fireman uniform, get in my tough guy fireman vehicle, and go to my tough guy fireman station. And while I’m there I usually do tough guy fireman stuff like saving orphans and kittens and orphaned kittens. And respond to emails (actually a pretty daunting task).
I’ve been doing all of this tough guy fireman stuff since before my kids were born. When my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, one of the first thoughts I had was, “this child is going to be able to tell all the other kids that her dad is a tough fireman. Nobody is going to mess with her.” I took pride in the fact that when it came time for the kids to bring us to school for “show-off-your-parents-and-their-cool-jobs” day, my child would be the envy of the other kids because her dad was an awesome tough guy fireman.
Now that we’ve gotten all that BS out of the way, let me tell you about the time a “tough” fireman was reduced to a slobbering, sniveling mess in the arms of his then-two-year-old daughter.
It was early 2012. I was riding seat (in-charge for you donut-eaters) with two other firefighters assigned to my apparatus. I was at the end of what would be an 18-month stretch of terrible calls. Every First Responder has a call that they can never forget. It’s part of the job. Most of the time it’s a specific, stressful incident that can often make you question why you started down this road of a thankless, underpaid career. These kinds of calls are (thankfully) usually few and far between. The worst of them involve children. Again, these calls are rare, yet profound.
I had made five in 18 months. Five pediatric fatalities. All of them under three years of age. I had racked up a career’s worth of crappy incidents in an 18-month period. I was mentally at the breaking point and on the verge of burnout but did nothing about it because I was a tough guy fireman. At no point during those 18 months did I seek out professional counseling or even peer support, because that’s not something tough guy firemen do. We clean the blood from our boots and get back on the truck. We don’t whine about our feelings. We get over it. Right? Right??
I might’ve been a tough guy fireman, but man was I a dummy.
Then, the incident that finally tipped the scales occurred. It was a clear, crisp morning. We were doing what firemen do best – making sure the recliners couldn’t escape. The station alert opened up and let us know that we were going to yet another motor vehicle accident. We climbed up into the apparatus and started heading for the dispatched address. Nobody in the pumper was too excited because, duh, we’re tough guy firemen. We do this stuff all the time.
I had just finished putting us enroute over the radio when we heard the voice of an unusually stressed dispatcher. The additional information now stated that the simple motor vehicle accident we were responding to was, in fact, an auto versus pedestrian. And the pedestrian on the receiving end of said auto was a little girl.
The stress level inside that pumper went from stoner college dropout to bomb disposal technician in a matter of seconds. The mental rolodex of all the tough guy fireman stuff I was supposed to do started flipping at a high rate of speed in my head. Stay calm. Give orders. Follow your training. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Then we arrived on scene and my brain lit the rolodex on fire, threw it on the ground, and pissed on the ashes. The scene was utter chaos. There were people everywhere. Residents near the incident, hearing the commotion, flooded out of their houses to see what was going on. And the strangest part was that there was no centralization to the mob. Everybody was wandering around, many of them shouting or crying or just in a state of confusion. There were so many people that it actually took a brief second for us to figure out where the patient was.
Then we saw her. She looked like she could have been sleeping. In that moment, my brain decided to cooperate. It picked the rolodex back up off the ground, dusted it off, and directed me to go to work. I won’t go into too much detail other than to tell you that from the point we got to the patient, until we handed off care to the hospital, the men and women I was with at that scene performed flawlessly. Everybody knew what to do and was performing tasks that needed to be done before anybody had to ask them to do it. Every life-saving measure was exhausted trying to save this little girl’s life.
Unfortunately, our efforts could not overcome her injuries. This happens. It had happened. This pediatric fatality was now number six in an 18-month period. I fully expected to deal with this one like I had dealt with all the other ones. We would go back to the station. Everybody would retreat to their corners of the building. The rest of the shift would be quiet, with nobody wanting to admit just how much we were affected. We would get off in the morning, still not having acknowledged the gravity of what had happened. Then we would come back to work the next shift like nothing had happened and get ready for the next one. That’s how tough guy firemen handle it. That’s just “what we do”.
Hey, look! There’s that big dummy I’ve been talking about.
During that incident, I rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance to assist with the life-saving efforts. The Deputy Chief for the department drove his Tahoe to the hospital to pick me up and bring me back to the scene so that I could be reunited with my crew. I had been through this same routine before. Chief picks me up, brings me back to the scene, we stay there until we get released by DPS, go back to the station, and so on.
But this time felt … different. I remember pulling back up to the scene. My Deputy Chief (who was well aware of my recent history with pediatric incidents) put his Tahoe in park, looked over at me and asked, “what do you want to do?”
I blinked for a second, not understanding what he was asking me. Then, it clicked.
He’s asking you if you’re okay to get back on the truck, you tough guy dummy.
In that moment, I realized I had absolutely no desire to get back on the apparatus with my crew. For the first time in my career as a firefighter, I honestly did not want to wash the blood from my boots and get back on the truck. I would like to say I was alarmed by this realization, but I actually wasn’t feeling much of anything at that moment. Looking back at it now, this tough guy fireman was in shock. That’s the best way to describe it. I felt … nothing.
I looked back at him for a moment, then looked forward, past the windshield to where the rest of my crew stood among the flashing lights and scene tape. Before I realized I was speaking, my face hole formed and spoke the words, “I want to go home.” My Deputy Chief, understanding what needed to happen, silently put the truck in reverse, turned around, and started heading back to the station.
As I left the station, I called my wife. I told her that there was a bad call at work and that I was heading home. Then I realized how bad that sounded and had to reassure her that I wasn’t hurt or anything, it was just a bad call and I no longer wanted to be there. Then I realized how strange that sounded and said to hell with it, I’ll explain it when you get home. She feigned understanding and told me since I was getting home early (about 18 hours early), our daughter would be super excited if I surprised her at daycare and picked her up. So I did. Still in a state of semi-shock, I picked our daughter up from daycare and brought her home.
Our daughter neither understood nor particularly cared why there was a break in protocol and daddy was picking her up. I had freed her from that hellish prison of juice, cookies, and nap time. She could finally return to the barbie doll saga that she had started to play out in our living room the day before.
So that’s what she did. As soon as we walked in the front door of our house, she bolted towards her toy box, retrieved the plastic main characters of her imagined world and began to play. I walked to “my chair” (a leather recliner that had the same texture as a well-used football – every dad should have one) and sat down. I sat there, staring at my two-year-old daughter, but actually looking past her into … nothing.
Most people know this as the “thousand-yard stare.” I sat in my chair, staring off into space, reflecting on the day’s events. At that moment, I felt locked in my own head. I relived that incident a hundred times as I sat there. I felt alone, angry, sad, worthless, inadequate, untrained, and a multitude of other feelings all at the same time.
I didn’t notice my daughter had stopped playing and was staring back at me until she stood and began to walk towards me. I then realized the sadness and despair that she must have seen on my face. This was something she had never seen before. I was the tough guy dad fireman. I didn’t get sad. I was the tough dummy. I mean tough fireman dummy. I mean tough guy fireman.
In that moment, my two-year-old daughter realized that her tough guy fireman dad was hurting. She put her barbies down, walked over to me, climbed up on my lap, and put her head down on my chest. She put her hand right over my heart and began to pat me, like I had done for her so many nights when I was trying to get her to go to sleep. Then she started to whisper, in the sweet voice that could only come from a two-year-old little girl, “Shhhh. It’s ok daddy.” And she kept repeating that over and over as she patted my chest. Never raising her head. Never squirming to go back and play. In that place in time, in that moment, she was taking care of her daddy.
My face started leaking. Slowly at first, then more gradually until I was full-on ugly crying. All of the mental anguish that had been building for the past 18 months had come to a head that day. I sat in my chair, my little girl in my lap, her taking care of me as if she had done it a hundred times before.
That’s when I realized something about fathers in general and, more specifically, those of us in public safety positions. It’s okay for your kids to think you’re an invincible superhero. But don’t go believing that crap yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Knock off all the bravado crap and take charge of your well-being. Because if it gets to the point that you’re slobbering and crying like a baby in the arms of your two-year-old, maybe you’re past due for some support.
I sought out peer support. I talked with those who have been through what I have. I learned techniques to handle some of the more difficult aspects of this job. That way, I can be the superhero they need me to be, when they need me to be.
One of my favorite quotes is about kids looking up to their parents. It simply states:
“They want to be just like you. Be worth being.”