Tag Archives: family

The Seemingly Impossible Problem of the Small Screaming Child

crying Lucas babyThe story about the diner owner screaming at a toddler who’d been whining and crying while waiting for her pancakes is all over my newsfeed. I’m a little astonished this is difficult to assess. It’s a classic situation and there is actually a load of literature on how different responses net different outcomes with regard to small kids who are crying/having a tantrum/whining/etc.

1. It is well catalogued that a stranger screaming at a screaming or crying toddler may quiet the child down momentarily, but it is the worst response to take. Why? Because:
a. The child may have a good reason for crying (in this case, hunger), and the screaming at the kid doesn’t change their biological need to cry in response to their need.
b. The child may have already exhausted other tactics of communication, may come from an abusive household, or may have difficulty communicating another way (e.g., the kid may be autistic), and the stranger’s screams may only serve to trigger or frighten the kid, or worse, add to the child’s trauma. Rule of thumb: If you’re the bigger person, you have more power, so use it kindly.
c. Ironically, you’re teaching the child that screaming is a terrific response to frustration. So the kid shouldn’t scream but the grownup can?
d. It’s also been shown that being nice can defuse these situations even better than yelling. “You must be really hungry, huh? Would you like these crackers, honey? How growly is your belly right now?”

2. All human behavior is temporal. It changes over time, is dependent on things like mood, learning, wakefulness, context, and so on. By all accounts this child did not enter the diner screaming, she worked up to it. If she exhibited calmer behavior earlier, then she was capable of de-escalating back down to it. Unfortunately for her none of the adults in the room helped to calm her or chose to meet her needs. So the pancake takes forty minutes? Give her a small bowl of applesauce, or some freaking crayons. But identifying this–or ANY–child only via her screaming is to dehumanize her, and I will not concede this point. The kids who take the most crap for their behavior are the ones who aren’t as traditionally “cute” looking, or whose parents are marked by some presumed defect. We do not single out screaming kids just for their screaming. Go back and read the way the diner owner talked about the whole family, and see the code: this is how she justifies screaming violently at a human being. And she’s totally lost the perspective that she was once a child, and that there was probably a moment in her life when an adult was unkind to her, and that she felt something negative from that experience. She has just pushed that onto the next generation. And this child will carry that moment forward in time with her now. What could have been a temporary moment of frustration is now an echo that will last for a while.

3. Just as small kids aren’t always screaming, parents aren’t always horrible or always terrific. Let’s not label them as such. I think I’m a pretty good dad, but I’ve had my poor moments, of course. People base their approval on this woman’s yelling because they have an issue with who the adults were as parents. That is very presumptive, and frankly, not rational thinking. If somebody had an issue with the parents, they should direct their communication to the parents. In all likelihood the owner ignored what was going on while it was escalating and began quickly getting resentful, so by the time she acted, she was also not responding rationally or carefully. Maybe she’s frustrated at having such a busy diner, or too small a space for her to work. Maybe lots of things, but what’s clear is that these weren’t regular customers that she knew, so she felt free to label them and scream at their child. Sometimes I bring my kids to breakfast restaurants and they’re not always perfectly behaved, but if the owner came and screamed at them they’d have two crying boys on their hands and one very upset parent (two if Susanne were with us). But come on, there is no defense to yelling at a small kid when who you’re really angry with is the adult at the table.

4. Small kids are among us, they’re a part of our culture. They’re also very vulnerable. They don’t always know why the grownups around them are tired, or frustrated, or mad, or sad, but they will often ask and they are great at giving comfort. These are the people who will support us all when we are in our senior years and need all kinds of care. I still find it amazing how fast human beings develop from only having one cry to having several that mean different things, to finding words, to forming sentences, to using language to think about the world around us. If children are merely a temporary inconvenience to you, I think your world view is lacking. To me, children are a joy and a fascination, and I get a lot out of interacting with them. When you have an opportunity to be kind to a kid, please try and take it and pass on the good will that has been shown to you.

Also, 40 minutes for pancakes is absurd.

The Mortal Coil

For the first time in several years, I didn’t ponder my own mortality on my birthday. Well, I’m lying, in that I had a moment, late in the day, in which I wondered out loud if I’ve passed the midpoint of my life at age 44. Susanne is confident I’m still in the first half, but in any case, there was a small reminder that life is fleeting and best implemented with enthusiasm. To put it more precisely than I did in the first sentence of this post, I didn’t get all morose about aging and dying, which is good, because I don’t generally walk around spouting off nihilistic prophecy. Though some of my birthdays in the last decade have been a bit—ahem—neurotic.

Emile enjoying cherries straight from the tree.Two days after my birthday, a good friend and also my past and Susanne’s current physical therapist brought a huge balloon and a strawberry-rhubarb pie to the house to wish me a bon anniversairie. She apologized profusely (so Susanne tells me; I wasn’t home at the time) for being tardy, but Tuesday had just been too hectic of a day and she couldn’t get to it, and she hoped it wasn’t too awful of her to be belated about the whole thing. Who would be a stickler for dates when pie is involved? Seriously.

Emile of course was gaga over the balloon, which was transparent except for the rainbow-colored HAPPY BIRTHDAY and a giant rainbow cupcake. He exclaimed that there was CAKE on the balloon, pointing at it more like a professional hunting dog and not so much in a “J’accuse!” way. He also wanted possession of the balloon. I was willing to go along with this until he insisted on bringing it outside and releasing it into the gorgeous blue late spring sky, and then I grappled with my 2-year-old to get it back in the house. It now hovers above our mantle, the silver ribbon cutting through the middle of our family portrait as the balloon gently jostles around. Emile seems to have made some kind of peace with just being able to look at daddy’s present. Read More…

How Small Children Complicate Life

Ed. Note: I love my kids, truly.

Okay, so yesterday was my birthday, and since I’ve been six years old and learned that I wasn’t allowed to keep the white rabbit the magician at my party pulled out of a dusty top hat, I’ve tried to downplay the importance of the occasion. I’m not the only person around who’s fretted over having a rainstorm cross their special day. Or the birthday breakup unfortunate coincidence. (Or was it really causal?) You know, birthdays aren’t guarantees that the course of the twenty-four hour period will shine with perfection and happiness. Not only does isht happen, but it happens devoid of thoughtful timing.

I would have enjoyed relaxing yesterday, with some kind of nap on the couch in the new living room, but there were several problems with this scenario:

  1. I’m between case managers at the office right now, so I needed to work all day.
  2. There are still 12,287 boxes in our new house that need unpacking.
  3. Lucas doesn’t like any position other than “being held by mommy or daddy,” which is difficult to do whilst lying down on a sofa.

Read More…


It’s an obvious statement to declare that I’m tired. I still get hammered with rapid-fire thoughts but the parts of my body I use for speech can’t keep up, so I wind up cutting my sentences short and fingering the lid of my iced mocha. I’m living at DEFCON 3 of irritation. Things like red light runners, people who take up spare seats next to them with their possessions so nobody else can sit down, line cutters, are all a hair away from my personal rendition of the riot act. No, you can’t put your plate of crumbs on my table at the coffee shop. Gee, I would rather you not drive in two lanes or loud talk your way through the produce aisle as if I care about the conversation you’re having with your invisible Bluetooth friend. I marvel that we’ve gone from Copernicus to nanotechnology in less than a millennium, but I’m a little perplexed that we use our progress for cat videos and Katy Perry. (No offense to Ms. Perry. Your video with Elmo is adorable and it keeps my toddler happy for two minutes and forty-one seconds.)

There’s an upside to having scant shreds of time for oneself and limitless aggravation, however. Priorities are quickly reset. Relationships, ranked. Anything lower than say, dedicated hobby, is truncated right off the schedule. Annoying people, curtailed. Poof, gone, vamoose. Bye Felicia is spoken to anyone who isn’t long-term important. And conflicts, when one needs to have them, are over in short order. Don’t process with me as you argue, because I’ll cut to the base issue. Dang, if only this had been my strategy when I was 23 and not 43. I could have lived a couple of additional lifetimes or something, with all of the saved time.

Limited time has also sped up my writing process—when I can get my brain to work well enough to generate writing, that is. But if the circuits are firing, I find I’m not dilly-dallying with junk like Facebook and email, I’m just writing. I carved out three new story arcs for my time travel series this week (Note to self: negotiate with publisher about the series) and got restarted on writing those 10,000 words I lost when my hard drive died last month. I don’t know when I’ll have a steady block of writing time again so I WRITEWRITEWRITE whenever I have the chance. Tomorrow may not show its face. Write when you get the chance, Maroon. Read More…

Express Delivery

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part in the story about Lucas’s birth. Also, I really wanted to write “EDITOR’S NOTE.”

me holding LucasIt’s strange to me to spend time in a hospital these days. I logged so so many hospital hours when I was growing up—between my epilepsy, nighttime seizures, and a bout with the once-named pseudotumor cerebri, I knew the floor plans of at least three medical centers—that there are strange factoids about these places that persist in my knowledge. Rounds happen way too early. Vitals are taken every four hours. Every fifth blood pressure cuff sucks. And nurses come in a vast variety of specializations and competence.

When I spent a week at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I learned I had two clear favorites, though at this point their names are lost to me. One was taller than a Redwood pine, the other a stout, short woman who cast fear into the hearts of doctors. The tall one always had a compliment. The short one always told me the truth. And when the line of residents came into my room to see how messed up my retinas were, all carrying their own blinding penlight, short nurse was there to steer them away after a couple of minutes.

I realized early on that hospitals are spaces of contradiction. They make people well, even as they’re the easiest place to catch a cold or communicable disease. They’re full of kindness in the light of progressive, inescapable illness, which is anything but kind. Their personnel have a wealth of knowledge about physiology, hematology, pharmacology, surgery, and so on, and often they don’t know anything at all related to an individual’s specific problem. Health care providers have been asked to absorb the latest and greatest in the scientific literature and retain their fundamental training. And because they work the middle of a normal distribution like flies to a cherry pie, an outlier’s power to confound is heightened. Read More…


I’m working on two grant applications for work and I’ve nominated myself (I know, how ostentatious of me) for the Lambda Literary Foundation’s emerging writer award, the application for which is due by March 7. I’ve already applied for two writing grants, am looking at three submission deadlines at the end of the month for short work, and submitted two other pieces for consideration in anthologies. Meanwhile Susanne and I have cobbled together the new baby’s nursery, hesitatingly accepted an invitation to a baby shower, and put together various things for our second kid. Her physician tells us that the baby could come at any time, even though we’re two weeks away from the due date. We have a backup plan in case labor begins before her mother flies into town. I’m trying to get my office ready for my short absence, and manage to keep a semblance of a writing schedule up until the rush to the hospital. And oh, my debut novel is due to be released in a little more than a week.

I’m not sleeping through the night anymore. Please don’t worry for me. It makes perfect sense, after all. There’s a lot going on. (See: preceding paragraph.) I’m no longer the French vaudeville guy spinning plates on sticks in front of a hostile audience. I’m spinning plates and juggling fire-torches at the same time. Or something. Forget it, it’s a sucky metaphor. In my 90 minutes of insomnia a night I play a little sudoku, read twenty pages of a novel, and roll over like a hot dog at 7Eleven. Once or twice I’ve groped my way out of bed to try to write a little and I wind up deleting the disaster the next day. I remember going to an exhibit in DC several years ago about women artist and insomnia, and there was this one wall—seriously, the whole gallery wall—that was a series of pen points that created a behemoth picture. I can’t even recall what the picture was. It could have been pugs dancing in tutus for all I know. The thing that stuck with me was the three gazillion dots on the wall. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. It was intricate, and mad, and just under the threshold of out-of-control.

My insomnia is nothing like that. It’s not tortured or angsty. It doesn’t feel like the edge of a precipice so much as it feels like I’m about to emerge out of a long tunnel that is curved just enough to keep from letting any light reach my retinas. It’s traveling through a space just dark enough to inspire or frighten one’s trust. So far I’ve got that trust, layered with excitement. I’m thrilled for the family to grow. I’m stressing over the external sleeplessness I know comes with round-the-clock feedings. I wasn’t worried when Susanne was laboring to bring Emile into the world that she’d be unable to walk for more than a month, but now I am. Knowledge is maybe not always power.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy, I’m fulfilled, I’m chocked up with anticipation, and the kinetic energy I contain on a daily basis this month is too much for my brain to get me to a decent sleep level. And so, I look forward to her labor, to my moment of giving her my best support, and the time when they lay a little body on her chest and she falls instantly in love with her newest child. I just have to get a ton of shit done before then, because there’s no way I’ll care about it afterward.

It’s Week 22 and I Haven’t Blogged About the Next Offspring

pacifiers with skulls and crossbonesLet me just come right out and say a couple of things: I love you, unborn second child. I know we often refer to you as a parasitic fetus, but we did that during the first pregnancy too, and look, we’re really super nice to Emile, so it is totally not a sign that we’re unexcited about you. But for my second point, I have to say, I’m sorry. I should have plastered your photos from the ultrasounds all over the Internet by now, and I haven’t. I should have written at least nine blog posts wondering what kind of person you’re going to be someday, and here we are, more than halfway through the gestation process, and here is blog post number one.

In my defense, little fetus, I’ve got a lot more confidence this time around, and if you look at the litany of blogging I did before Emile was born, a lot of the content was really about my insecurity. I wasn’t even sure before Emile if I could effectively swaddle a newborn. Boy was that a non-event!

Also, Emile took a lot of doing and a series of rejiggered logistics to get conceived. We racked up the fertility visits, invoices, sperm donors, and awkward conversations with medical personnel in the 18 months it took us from getting started to getting knocked up. You got all zygotey on attempt number one! You didn’t give me any time to sweat about it, fetus. Where’s the drama in getting what you want when you want it? That’s not going to get a lot of blog attention, you know? Read More…

Somnambulism Seems Easier

Emile sitting in a pumpkin patchMy weekday schedule is something of a failed attempt at ye olde work/home life balance:

7AM — wake, shower, dress

7:30AM—head to office (stopping at post office M&Th)


10:20AM–1PM—childcare for Emile/work out/run errands/housekeeping


3:45PM–4:50PM—write (a.k.a. suck down a latte and try to think)

4:55PM—pick up Susanne

5PM—home/make supper/childcare for Emile/pick up 17,238 small toys/crash on couch to a stupid show like House Hunters

If it’s swim class night, spend one full hour packing a diaper bag, wrestling Emile into a swim diaper, heading to gym pool, splashing for 30 minutes with Emile, wrestling Emile out of a wet bathing suit, driving home, getting Emile to bed. If it’s not swim class night, trying to make and eat dinner and clean up while Emile plays, gets a bath, and asks to read 3,844 different books that you’ve already read more than 98,000 times so far (plus or minus 100). Read More…

Breaking Point

I hope it’s fair to say that I’ve never used this blog as an outright rant before. I’ve posted food reviews, my adventures in publishing and writing, popular culture analysis, critiques of American culture, trans and queer civil rights, general progressive stuff, funny family stories, and promotion for my own work. And while I try to look at things with a critical eye, I actively try to write, even when from direct experience, with an eye toward connecting with other people. I know I’m not an island, and my experiences are not unique (although some of them are certainly uncommon). When I’m feeling particularly pressured or overwhelmed I try to do my processing offline, whatever privacy is afforded me who spends so much time either online or in a small town where everybody knows everybody else.

But I am going to break from whatever form I’ve cobbled here and register a few complaints. If you’re not interested in reading that, I understand completely. I still believe that other folks out there in my universe will have felt similarly and so for whatever that’s worth, you all have my unending empathy.

I am really exhausted. Seriously. I know I preach that I have a great work-home balance, and I do, but I feel like every minute of my day is scheduled, except the hours from Emile’s bedtime until my bedtime. And most of that is spent staring at the television in a zombie trance. The pressure to keep grant money flowing at work, to stay on top of my household’s entropy manufacturer, keep my connections to friends and acquaintances, be there as a mentor whenever it’s requested of me, take care of myself, support Susanne and Emile, and oh, yes, find time for writing, is all a heavy set of objects to juggle. I said this was a complaint, and it is, but I’m genuinely okay with my schedule and responsibilities, even if it is breakneck and a ton of work. Read More…

Whooping It Up

tree on our carMy flight down to Los Angeles at the end of July was nice, because I’d upgraded to first class, enjoying three or four drinks and a lovely nap in the oversized seat. I’d never flown first class before, but for $50, and after my fatphobic encounter the segment before (from Walla Walla to Seattle), I was content to pay a little more. I may have spoiled myself forever.

Flying back to the Pacific Northwest was not as luxurious. Sure, I had an aisle seat, so I could stretch out my wonky legs, but right behind me some white dude coughed the entire 2-hour flight. Every sixteen seconds, cough. Reading a book, consuming the seven tiny pretzels handed out mid-flight, nodding into a microsleep, these were all interrupted with coughing and hacking. I craned my head around but didn’t see so much as a phlegm-moistened tissue in his hand. Middle-aged cough machine there was just spewing his whatever all over the plane.

Turns out, on August 4, flying from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, I got coughed on by someone who had whooping cough. In all likelihood, anyway. Giving him the stink eye, as I and many of the passengers around me did, failed to silence him or motivate him to request a mask or barrier for his illness. By the next morning I had a tickle in my throat. Two days later I had a fever, and three days later, so did Susanne and Emile. We presumed we’d picked up a head cold or mild flu, and as we’d all been running around far from home, Susanne and I figured we were simply run down a bit. That first weekend back together we settled in and got as much respite as possible for a busy family of three. Read More…


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