Silence is...

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I did something the other day that I never imagined I'd ever be able to do again.

Because you know - as a parent somehow we're supposed to get excited about loss. The loss of sleep, free time, privacy, money, sanity; these are all things people say while laughing, right after the obligatory congratulations.

"Get sleep while you can. Man, kids are so expensive. Get ready, cuz they're gonna drive you crazy. Hahaha!!" 

Then again, perhaps a good ole' truth smack isn't such a bad idea, because the reality is, I've lost everything they said I would. I think of sleep like an old friend I used to have the most amazing time with, and can't remember why we ever grew apart. Well, at times at least - I sleep like a rock. Free time is a joke, because even if they aren't with me, the thought of them and their well-being consumes the free time in my mind I'd otherwise use for trivial thinking - because sometimes I just want to think about things that don't matter or better yet nothing at all. Privacy, HA!! I can't remember the last time I've been able to use the bathroom or take a shower or get dressed, with the door actually staying closed.  Money. Yeah, I don't think we need an explanation for this. There's no need to talk about what doesn't exist. Sanity comes and goes. Just when you think you've got a hold on it, nope. It's gone again.

For these reasons I say again -I did something the other day that I never imagined I'd ever be able to do again.

I sat.

I closed my eyes.

I played a song at full volume with headphones. I listened intently, peacefully, and never once opened my eyes from worrying about cries the music and headphones might be drowning out.

It was the most wonderful 3 minutes and 30 seconds I've experienced in a while and I hope to repeat it in the near future. 

To be able to sit without a child on either side of you, is miraculous. To be able to sit without a child on either side of you and play music through headphones, without tiny hands trying to pry them away from you, is like miraculous+. To be able to do the aforementioned and close your eyes without worrying about the welfare of your children, is miraculously heavenly. Now, granted my kids were sleeping at the time and it was at least 1am, but thoughts of your children don't sleep just because the children are sleeping. 

Moral of the story, find your 3 minutes and 30 seconds. You'll be amazed at how long it lasts, when your mind can be at ease about children and life in general. Silence is better than golden - I don't even like gold that much. 

I prefer to think of silence as something that I love.

Silence is San Pellegrino. And it tastes great. 

 

Second Chance at a First Memory

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What is life?

The answer seems more uncertain than ever. But from what I can gather so far, life is a collection of memories. We're all just trying to do something today that's worth remembering tomorrow. Yet after 35 years of tomorrow's, my memories are few.

Some experiences have been buried so deep,  I question if they were ever real. Sometimes, they are clearer than ever. Other times, it's just static and white noise. Or depending on your particular trauma, perhaps red noise or black noise or noise mixed with varied colors of why me. 

Some memories just fade with time - they were good for a day or maybe a week, but not significant enough to last through the years. This is my fear of our current society. So much of our daily consumption is controlled by fleeting moments of pseudo social connections. I fear that 10 years from now, we will remember taking the picture, but the true essence of the moment the picture was intended to capture, will be absent. 

Though my memories are few, the ones I have are vivid and life giving when I need them most. Many of them involve days spent with my Grandmother or Granna as she was called, going back as far as 3 years old. Dukes of Hazzard will always have a place in my heart, not necessarily because of the quality of the show, but because we used to watch it together on the tiny TV on the dresser - I'm talking old school VHF/UHF knobs. Sometimes, I'd sit with her in her bed and other times, I'd sit in the chair next to her night stand, perfectly positioned in front of the bright sun-filled window. Much of the San Francisco sky was occupied by fog, but somehow the clouds always managed to disappear from Masonic St. when looking out from her window.

Without question, the most vivid memory I have in life, is with her in the kitchen; it engages all of my senses. She used to make the best yams ever. I remember being with her while she prepped. I remember the smell of the butter. I remember what she wore.  I remember the pink pig with the green hat on the counter, which my mom still has to this day. I remember how the butter would begin to melt. I remember the aroma that filled the house when the butter and sweet potatoes would hold hands as they sat in the oven having a conversation that seemed to last for hours. And of course I remember the taste. Even as I write this, it feels like I'm back in that very kitchen, as if I'm interviewing her for an article on cooking.

Unfortunately, my memories were cut short when she lost her battle with cancer. I feel like my capacity to love and engage and invest in something/someone long enough and intensely enough to create such memories, died with her.

That is until my oldest Son Aaren was born and my mom became a Grandmother. Their relationship has developed into something beautiful. Aaren and Lady D are inseparable, much like me and Granna were, but to an even greater degree. His laughter increases and his smile widens when he's with her. The day can't come fast enough when he's scheduled to go to her house. They look more and more alike with each moment spent together. Though he's only 6 he already knows so much about her: her favorite colors, cupcake flavors, phone password - I don't even know her phone password. He knows where everything is in her kitchen as well as how to make certain recipes because of time spent together. The memories they are creating, are more meaningful than I think either of them realize - much like the memories Granna and I were able to create.

So again, I ask the question: what is life? As stated earlier, a series of today's trying to be meaningful enough to be remembered tomorrow. While writing this, I realized that after the passing of Granna, my tomorrow's stopped - as did my memories - because I didn't want to let go of the fact that we would no longer share any today's. This is why the relationship between my Mom and Son is so necessary. Seeing them gives me a second chance at a first memory. Seeing them finally gives me a tomorrow.

All I Wanted Was Coffee...

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Today was a day.

I was home with my youngest son August for most of the day, which was great because I'm usually not able to spend extended amounts of time with him like this during the week. It's almost as if he knew this opportunity might not come around again for a while, making sure to expel every last ounce of energy he could find. 

After failing miserably to get him down for a nap (which is pretty much a daily occurrence) he finally fell asleep somehow. But of course after putting a 2-year old back in his bed at least 10 times (because he's now able to climb out his crib), I lost the will to complete any of the tasks I set out accomplish. He wakes up an hour too soon and what does he have to say for himself - "Snack, Daddy. Snack."

I calmly direct him back to the lunch plate he never finished earlier, but the taste for carrots are now long gone. I honestly don't even remember what I ended up giving him for a snack and it wasn't even that long ago. Parent brain I guess.

Somehow, I survived the day long enough to pick up my oldest son Aaren, at 4:15. I remember the exact time because I remember calculating how much time I had left before their bedtime, which wasn't for another 4 hours...

If I was going to make it for the next 4 hours, there was only one way to do it: with coffee. So, I go to QuickStop on the way home to get a 16oz cup of 'you can do this Dad', and they actually had French Vanilla creamer - that never happens! We get home, I start getting their food prepped for dinner later, and I notice August in my room messing with my computer, because no matter how high or how far away I put it, he always gets a hold of it. I go in the room, and as I'm escorting him out of the door, my heart drops. My coffee was spilled on the floor.

I placed it on my wife's desk for literally less than 5 minutes. All day, I waited for the moment when I'd be able to drink my coffee in peace. I don't think I've looked forward to anything more than this, the entire month of January. He didn't just spill my coffee. He spilled my hope. He spilled my peace. After a day like today, drinking a cup of coffee would be considered success. I probably would've finished the coffee in 10 minutes, but I needed that 10 minutes. 

This happened hours ago, but I'm still trying to process it all. August was standing right next to me at the time of discovery, so I couldn't react or respond - this was the hardest part of all. Because, when I think about it, I'm sure it was accidental. He often likes to bring us things and that's most likely what he was doing, trying to bring Daddy his coffee; how can I get upset at that? But I was. 

The moral of the story here, is to never leave QuickStop with one item. Thankfully, I also bought 2 packs of Airheads to go with my coffee (unlikely combo, I know) to help soothe the day away, so all was not lost. But I did really want that coffee though...

The Russ Collective

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My family and I have launched The Russ Collective. This will be our platform for our original content - music, videos, blogs, etc. - with the focus being on family and parenting.

We're excited to introduce the first song "No Other Way (Baby in My Arm)" from our music project. The song speaks about finding the balance needed to be fully engaged in life and family simultaneously.

 

Thank you for your support today and always!

 

August Had A Seizure...

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"Hey Babe, August just had a seizure..."

Not the call I was expecting to get from my wife the afternoon of December 27th, 2017. Our boys were with my mom for the day, so of course I figure my wife is calling to discuss how we'll exercise our freedom that evening - wink, wink. Or maybe something super funny happened that she had to share in that moment, because otherwise it would be forgotten by the time we both got home.

Out of all the thoughts running through my mind prior to that call:

  • I should be done with this appointment in about an hour
  • I think I'll use this product to treat this stain
  • This kind of carpet takes a bit of time to dry, so I think I'll leave my air movers here and come back for them tomorrow

I never once imagined I'd have to process - August just had a seizure. But I did.

If you know August, you'd understand that he's the coolest 2 year old ever. It's like he's beyond the trials of life, seizures or any kind of sickness. But his humanity quickly became evident in the most heart-wrenching way possible. I was instantly reminded of perhaps the most difficult aspect of fatherhood; having to come to grips with the fact that you can't protect your family from everything all the time.

I wasn't there when it happened. I wasn't there to call for help. I wasn't there to ride with him in the ambulance. I wasn't there to hold him while they wrapped tubes around his feet. I wasn't there while they tried to keep him still to get his temperature. And it's not because I chose not to be there. It's not because I didn't care or because I'm a bad father - but because it's impossible to be all places at all times. There was nothing I could do with this news in the moment. I was powerless.

"...Don't worry, he's stable."

No parent wants to hear of their child at any age being "stable." Like what does that even mean that my two year old is stable?!

Backtrack. This whole series of events started earlier that day. My mom took the boys to Target to get August some fever medicine. Unfortunately, the virus that caused the fever, won before it could be beat. My mother noticed him seizing in the red cart and immediately yelled for yelp. Thankfully, a woman next to her was familiar with these situations, as her daughter suffered from seizures, and was able to give instruction until the paramedics arrived (thank you whoever you are from the bottom of my heart). At this point my oldest Aaren, age 5, is crying because he thinks he's about to lose his brother, while my mom has to try to be strong for him and for herself and for the paramedics to explain what happened. Thank you mom as well.

Sidenote: This is why we should be extremely selective and intentional about whose care we leave our children in.

Back to the story. I finally made it to the hospital to meet my mom, wife, Aaren and of course August. Seeing him in the emergency room connected to tubes was extremely difficult. Having to wait for a room didn't help emotions at all, but I'm glad I was there in time to be the face he saw once he woke up.

Turns out this was an isolated incident, not something that will be recurring, nevertheless this has been my most frightening moment as a parent. The thought of being without one of my sons is one I can't even fully think. Neither do I want tragedy to be the only catalyst of perspective. So it is my goal to parent and love them intentionally. Everyday. Not as if it's our last, but as if this is just what we do.

Who's Parenting Your Child?

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If the man at the coffee shop asked to replace me as the parent of my children, of course I'd say no. If the people on my row in church offered to relieve me of parenting duties for all eternity, I would swiftly decline. If the person behind me at the grocery store asked to let my children leave with them after their transaction, I'd call for security. Why then am I allowing these people to parent my children? I tell my sons to "behave" in the coffee shop, so the man next to us doesn't get upset. I force stillness upon their bodies that don't have any concept of what still even means, so that fellow congregants aren't annoyed. I try to keep my toddler son's ramblings to an acceptable decibel level, according to the woman behind me in line at the grocery store. In so doing, I'm giving these strangers license to parent my children.

And for what? Where's the payoff? Maybe they'll say, "Oh, you're such a great parent." Or maybe the classic line, "Your children are so well behaved."

Never say that regarding my kids. It's not a compliment and I won't accept it. Not today. Not ever.

How much of what I teach my children is actually for their benefit? If I'm being completely honest, all the no's and don't do's and sit downs and be stills, are to hopefully ensure they act "right" when they're not at home - this is not okay.

Home should be where kids can be free to run, play, be wild, be loud, be wrong, be right. Home should be where they can be children, fully. Afterall, do they really need to be quiet, or is it just that my bad day needs some silence? Do they really need to stop running back and forth through the house, or has my laziness overpowered my desire to engage them? Does the inquiring mind of a child really need to stop asking so many questions, or is my inability to answer the why's of my own life shutting down their curiosity?

When I say I, I mean we, and we cannot continue to parent our children with the hope that they meet the flawed expectations of other people; people who don't even matter. Being seen as a good parent to the rest of the world means nothing if our children see us as the complete opposite. Let's deal with our lack of self-esteem in the therapists office, or community group or in meditation, or any other form of healing that doesn't involve damaging the lives of others, i.e. our children.

Yes, it is our awesome responsibility to guide them on this journey of life, but guiding and controlling are not the same. We spend too much trying to control and prevent the inevitable: they're going to make mistakes and do things we don't agree with - there's no way around it. So, instead of trying to force them into perfection, let's foster a culture that develops their emotional intelligence to deal with life when things go wrong.

Instead of saying: OMG, I can't believe you did so poorly, or what's wrong with you, or I thought you were smarter than that, or some other highly inappropriate phrase that would make any adult or child crawl into a corner, we can say something like: Hey I know you didn't do as well as you hoped on ______, but let's do some extra practice TOGETHER and see what more we can learn."

Sounds easy enough right? Then why is it so difficult? Because this type of parenting requires active engagement and a constant evaluation of self. Why do I feel the need to scream at the top of my lungs at a 5 year old? Am I trying to control my child beyond reason because I'm lacking control in my own life? Am I forcing my child to do something because that's how my family has always done it, even if it's void of any benefit?

The adult world requires perfection, even though no one is able to provide it. When I succumb to this unrealistic expectation, I fail everytime because flawlessness is unattainable. And in this failure, I rarely give myself grace, which often leads to grace not being shown to my children for their mistakes. Mistakes that probably aren't even mistakes. This means I'm withholding grace because someone else's expectation of my child is not being met. Looking at it even deeper, what if the woman behind me at the grocery store is actually thinking: I'm not annoyed at all, I totally understand. Now I'm making my kids act a certain way to satisfy what someone else isn't even thinking!

Bottom line - WE are the parents of our children. Other people's beliefs and thoughts and opinions can't sign our children out of school as parent or guardian. Only we can do that.

If I had a Brother

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Growing up an only child has benefits. The most obvious being, not having to share. However, when there's no other option, not having to share isn’t as glorious as it seems. Perfect example: Toy stores were annoying at times, because manufacturers would insult me time and time again, putting Rocksteady and Bebop together in the same impossible to open package. How dare you? Don’t you know I’m an only child? Don’t you know what it feels like for one kid to control the actions of both figures? My left arms always knows what my right arm is doing. I can only bang these figures together for so long, while trying to come up with different sound effects with each clash. Sure the toys were all mine, but what good was that?

Video games weren’t as fun alone either. Tecmo Bowl lost its luster without any human competition. Talking smack to a CPU who can’t talk trash back to you, is wack. And let’s not talk about Super Mario Bros. Remember, I grew up in a time when saving your place in a game didn’t exist. Video games back then had to be won by dedicating an entire day to it. Embracing such a task was dreadful alone. Thankfully, my friend would come over, but he was an only child as well. On our own, we were both used to being Mario. Naturally, arguing ensued over who would have to be Luigi, which was usually resolved how all matters were back then: Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Not having a brother meant having internal discussions all the time, asking myself is this a good idea, or should I do this or say this; exhausting stuff. Trust me. I wish I had a brother to say, Hey bro, that’s a crazy idea or I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Not having a brother meant peer affirmation and encouragement was often absent. Of course my parents did their part, but they had to. It’s kinda in the parental code of conduct. But I feel like a “good job” from a brother would be more sincere.

If I had a brother, I’d undoubtedly want him to be just like my son.

Watching my oldest son Aaren interact with his younger brother August is heartwarming. There are plenty of times when August annoys him to the ends of the earth, but there are other times, when they are inseparable. “Good job August, Auggie, Augusto” - can be heard multiple times throughout the day. Aaren protects him. He loves him genuinely. He hugs him. He takes him out of his toddler chair. He helps him out of bed. He reads to him and August actually listens - well most times. They play together as if they’re the same age, though they are 4 years apart.

I imagine things would be different if I had an Aaren in my life. But knowing that August does, is reason enough to smile.

I. Hate. Parks.

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Ok, so maybe hate isn't the right word. But as soon as my foot steps on the first blade of grass or sinks into the infinite grains of sand, a very, very strong dislike settles in. How long do we have to stay? How am I going to successfully lure them away when we leave? Who's that strange man sitting on the bench? All of these kids are accounted for...oh wait, it seems the child wandering aimlessly on the other end of the park is his - my bad bro.

Moving on. Why has no one figured out a cure for slide-shock? All these years and still no solution, come on man. I just want take my son off the slide without trying to brace myself for electro-shock therapy. Is that so much to ask?

And then there's the vertical poles. You know, those things that are supposed to be in place to keep children from falling while walking up the stairs or walking across bridges. Yeah. Those. Why can my child fit his entire body through this gap!? Why can I fit my entire body through this gap!? Did the parks department reach the maximum on their pole budget, how does this happen!

Perhaps the most frustrating complexity of park culture, are park politics. The kids are never the issue, it's the parents one has to be leery of. You've seen them. No matter how much sand their child throws or how may times that little offspring of theirs "accidentally" pushes other children, they're the parent that still kinda acts like it's the fault of the other child. Yes. These are the parents who try to nervous laugh their way through me saying something like: Hey, your kid just pushed my kid, what are you going to do about it?

But perhaps the worst perpetrating park parents, are the ones who act like they don't see me and my little one waiting to get in the toddler swing that your child has been in for the last hour. You see me. I know you see me. I see you trying not to see me. Your kid is friggin' sleep, get'em outta there!

Sigh.

Amidst all of this, is supposed to be fun being had somewhere. I still haven't found it. I'm not sure I ever will. And that is why I hate have a very strong dislike for parks.

Because Fathers do Exist

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If you would've told me, at age 34 I'd have 2 sons, my response would be a swift #LOL. Now that I actually am a father, most of my #LOL's occur off screen, where words and characters lack the substance and effectiveness to capture real uncontrollable laughter. The kind of unprompted, contagious laughter that comes from a toddler - there's no emoji, meme or hashtag for that. It's real. It's magical. And so is this journey of fatherhood - a journey worthy of sharing. That brings us here.

It is impossible to share every waking moment in the blogosphere that I experience as a father, nor do I wish to do so. Some experiences are better kept within the blue accents of our walls, so that when later recalled, we can relive these special moments as a family from a proprietary viewpoint.

There are other experiences that must be shared for my own sanity. Children do things beyond my understanding, and I need to know that I'm not alone when they lift their shirts repeatedly for no reason, or say they like the taste of dirt and sand, or call my name (daddy, daddy, daddy) over and over and over for no real reason at all, or ask for a bandage when they fall even though the slightest trace of a cut or scrape is nowhere to be found. I need to know that somewhere out there, is a parent who can say, me too!

Other times, will simply be to share overwhelming moments of joy and excitement; and in an effort to makes this blog as genuine as possible, even not so joyful and excited moments. Because sometimes - that's life.

And so, this is the beginning of a collection of experiences; real experiences from the lens of an invested Father deeply in love with his sons.