What We Told Our Kids Today

Our two children, our 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, were very enthusiastic about this election. From the beginning, they’ve shown an enormous amount of genuine curiosity about it, and became quite emotionally invested. Of course, that’s because their parents were too.

We certainly knew that a Hillary Clinton presidency was not a foregone conclusion, and that it would not take some sort of upheaval or miracle for Donald Trump to defy expectations, but like most of the human species, it appeared so unlikely as not to warrant too much worry. So that’s what we shared with our kids. Optimism about the outcome, always grounded in the very real possibility that we were wrong.

They were excited that a woman might be president. We read them biographical children’s books to them about Hillary Clinton, and they truly admire her, as my wife and I do. They were comically hostile to Trump, with my son devising elaborate offensive machines that would batter Trump with multiple frying pans should he ever come to the door seeking our votes. My daughter was more concise, promising to “smack him in da FACE.” I discouraged the more overtly violent fantasies, but it was all in fun. (When I informed my son that Clinton had “kicked Trump’s butt” in the debates, he paused and clarified, “Metaphorically.” Yes, son, metaphorically.)

Among our many agonies on election night, my wife Jessica and I were sick over how to tell the kids what had happened in the morning. Jess was very worried, afraid that our son, who is at a very emotional phase, would panic. If the grownups were in tears, our sensitive kids would be too.

This morning, I snuggled up to my son in his bed, cuddled him close. Thumb in mouth, he rested his half-sleeping head on my chest. I rubbed the close-cut hair on his head, and wished I could lay there with him for hours.

Jessica came into the room, and as our son became more awake, she calmly broke the news in a gentle, measured, loving voice. “Donald Trump won the election.”

Over the course of the morning, here’s the gist of what we told our daughter and son.

We’re all okay.

There is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump is bad news. We absolutely don’t think he should be president. Maybe more importantly, we know that Hillary Clinton would have been an amazing president. We’re pretty sad, and a lot of people are going to be feeling very bad about this for a while.

Donald Trump is a man we disagree with on almost everything, but we in this family are going to be just fine. We won’t at all like a lot of what he does or tries to do, but he’s not going to “come and get us.”

Here’s what we can do now. For all the things we don’t like about the man who will soon be president, we can choose to be better. We can be kinder to the people in our lives, and help the people who need it. We can love each other and always be looking for ways to make our home and our community a better, happier place. It’s actually the most powerful thing we can do.

Remember that not everyone agrees with us. [Note: My son’s first grade class voted unanimously for Clinton in their mock election, but Trump eked out a victory in my daughter’s pre-K class.] When you go to school and when you’re around other people, remember that some of them are happy about this election, and others are very upset. Don’t be mean to the people who voted for Trump, and be gentle with those who didn’t. The idea is to put more love and kindness into the world, not less.

There are many people out there in the country and in the rest of the world who will have a much harder time with Trump as president than we will. We are very lucky in that we will be okay, and our lives will be just about the same. Others will have new troubles, and we need to help them however we can.

That’s more or less what we told them.

For our daughter, we were very clear and optimistic and passionate on one particular point: You can be anything you want to be. You can be president. You can accomplish whatever you set out to do. I think we told her this for our own sake as much as hers. I had brought her into the voting booth with me on Election Day, so she could be there when I voted for who we thought would be the first women President of the United States. Though she didn’t feel this way, I felt that more than anyone else we had let my daughter down.

After we first told our son what happened, as I held him to me in his bed and could not see the first reaction on his face, I worried how the news was hitting him. He lifted his head up, got to a sitting position, and my 6-year-old boy spoke.

“Can I write a letter to Hillary Clinton?”

He wants to write to her to tell her how sorry he is that she lost, that he knows she worked so very hard, and that he doesn’t want her to be upset.

That was his first reaction to the news.

If Jessica and I have succeeded in anything in our lives, it is in that we have brought into the world two human beings with good, loving hearts. They are kind, they are compassionate, they are empathetic. I am so deeply proud of them.

We proceeded through our usual Wednesday morning routine, and though heavy with the weight of what has happened and what is to come, we still had silliness and hugs and jokes as well as the mundane frustrations of getting out the door in the morning. My kids made me laugh, they got on my nerves, my son forgot his backpack so that we had to go back home to get it, and my daughter agreed to become president one day, before going to pet the preschool class’s bunny.

This is not a trivial thing. My family and I, along with tens of millions of human beings, have been let down by a huge portion of our fellow citizens. We were betrayed by legions of cynical opportunists, self-righteous purists, the blamelessly uninformed, the willfully ignorant, and the overtly malicious. Not only has a fascistic clown been elected president, but we’ve been denied the leadership of perhaps the most qualified, competent, and skilled president our country could have ever had. There is darkness coming.

But there is also light. My sensitive, curious, imaginative boy and my brilliant, brave, creative girl. They are luminous.

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The challenge today was to be alright with accomplishing nothing. Which turned into something else.

I’m parenting solo with only one of the kids, my 3-year-old daughter, as my wife and 6-year-old son are on a whirlwind trip to visit friends in far-off places. I am enjoying the chance to spend solo time with my daughter, though as my wife will attest, I already exist in a state in which I am constantly wrapped around her little finger. Nonetheless, it’s nice.

The week had been productive in a number of ways, not just from work, but in the restarting of my podcast after a brief hiatus, beginning to noodle with music once again, and most impressive to me, my having installed a dishwasher with no help, and no errors. 

But then I had my weekend with my daughter. Saturday was all about catering to her. Her brother was going on an adventure, and she was not, so this was a day to spoil her a bit, and that took the bulk of the day. Today, Sunday, was more or less a normal Sunday, with stuff to take care of around the house, and a kid to occupy (usually it’s two of them, and I have a partner in parenting). 

We played with her stuffed animals, we played doctor and patient (I needed a shot of course), and we spent a good amount of time on this beautiful, cool day at a playground. She loves the swings. She could stay on the swings all day. And of course, she must be pushed.

I could feel an anxiety rise in my chest. The work week was about to start back up. Nothing had gotten done in the house. I needed playtime to last as long as it could in order to fill time, and yet I worried over the time that was ticking away. For…what? I didn’t know.

I tried to be still. She was in a kind of state of blissful sublimity on her swing, time having even less meaning than it usually does for a 3-year-old. I wanted to join her, at least a little, in that state. It didn’t have to be bliss, but I could at least reject the concerns for Things to Be Done, for time filled purposelessly. I could, maybe, just be okay with being there, for as long as it went. 

I don’t know that I quite got there, but I got closer.

And then I thought, well, I’m not actually “doing nothing,” even though I am working toward being content with exactly that. I am doing something absolutely crucial.

I am raising my daughter.

Raising a child isn’t something that is “accomplished.” It is not a task. It is a (hopefully) lifelong series of moments, overlapping and tumbling and grinding and slipping by. It is a long line of fractions of seconds, in which I make connections of varying degrees of strength and meaning with my child. It is both glacial and ephemeral. 

It is each push on that swing. 

I didn’t accomplish much today. But I did push my little girl on her swing for as long as she wanted. I accomplished a lot today.

Thirty-Eight with Thanks

As a therapeutic exercise, I’m supposed to be writing down things for which I am grateful. Apparently, there is some science behind the idea that this will increase my well-being. Could be, what do I know.

Well, today is birthday number 38 for me (one of the least milestone-y birthdays one can have – at least last year I reached the age of Dennis, who is “not old”). And why not use the occasion to be public about my gratitude? Now, for some things, my gratitude is felt directly for a specific person or entity with agency. Other things are more nebulous, and there’s no one person to express gratitude to. So in that situation, obviously assume I am not thanking a god or cosmic consciousness or anything like that. I’m just expressing appreciation, aimed at no one.

I’m grateful that my family and I are largely healthy, sane, and safe. There are always crises and challenges, but we’re okay. In fact, things could get much worse for us, and we’d still qualify as “okay.” When I think about other places in the world, other zones of horror and fear, I remember that chance has placed me and my family in a remarkably privileged position. I cherish that, despite my more frivolous neuroses.

I am grateful to my wife Jessica for her devotion and kindness in regard to me and our kids, but also for her own courage and determination to carve out creative efforts and continue to improve herself. She’s a wonder. And also rather attractive, which, I’m not gonna lie, I’m really thankful for.

20151129_102532I’m grateful for the kind hearts and imaginative minds of my kids. My boy thought I seemed a little sad the other day (I was), and he made me a little Baymax paper doll to help me feel better (he also drew my Civ V map). I had never seen my three-year-old daughter try to draw people before, and my first example of her attempt was a picture of she and I holding hands.

I’m grateful for Google. I mean, really.

I’m grateful for the handful of people who follow my work in writing, music, and other endeavors. I worry too much about amassing more such people, as though some kind of universal validation for my existence will emerge, but I do need to let that go, and just be grateful that I can write and have people read, play and have people hear.

I am grateful for the weird, tumultuous network of family my wife and I now share, spanning the generations and the geography of the United States.

I am not the best friend in the world. I am insular and introverted, and I don’t do a lot of nurturing of friendships. Yet, so many friends have stayed nonetheless. I am grateful for that.

I am grateful to the staff of the local Starbucks that are all really nice, and have never given me any crap for sitting here for so long, nursing one drink as I browse and type.

I am grateful for peace and silence when it comes. Like right now.

You’re CPAPping it Wrong

A couple of sleep studies and an apnea diagnosis, and here I am in the midst of the CPAPpening. After the nasal mask failed to work out for me, it was time for something new. Tonight I try for the first time the nasal “pillows,” which look like little blue earplugs or gummy candies that stick right on your nostrils.
I recruited my boy, 5 years old, to help me figure it out.

At first, I was all, where does this tube go?


That seemed to miss the point. Was there something I was supposed to be listening for?


If so, I couldn’t make any sense of it. So I brought the boy over, and I didn’t trust what was going on in his head.


And that’s when it occurred to me that this was what this device was really for: learning more about what was in my boy’s head! Through my nose.


I’m sure this will all work out.

My Son and Papa Dreadnoughtus

You may recall that last year they announced the discovery of a dinosaur species which they called Dreadnoughtus, thought to be the single largest land animal to ever live. Cool, right? Suck it, Argentinosaurus!

Anyway, my 5-year-old son has a project this week in his preschool class on dinosaurs, his favorite subject. He had to choose one to report on, and build a poster based on what he learned. Well he already knows gobs of facts about all manner of dinosaur species, so in order to up the ante and challenge him a bit, we chose, you guessed it, Dreadnoughtus.

He was really enthusiastic about it, he knew he’d be the only kid to choose it, and he threw himself into learning new facts about it, and especially drawing his masterful picture.

I snapped a picture of my wonderful boy and his project, and shared it to the inter-social-webs. And guess who responded to the tweet? None other than paleontologist Ken Lacovara, the paleontologist who discovered Dreadnoughtus! (He describes himself in his Twitter bio as “Papa to Dreadnoughtus.”) He’s the guy laying next to the fossil in the picture on my son’s poster above. He tweeted:

Nice! Please tell him I said he did a great job!

unnamedAnd on my contention that my boy would “kick those other kids’ [projects] butts,” Lacovara said:


I echo what my wife Jess said about this: It’s this kind of thing that’s so wonderful about the social Internet. That my preschool-age son could excitedly work on a project about a dinosaur, and almost instantly be encouraged and congratulated by the very person who discovered it.

Anyway, thank you, Dr. Lacovara!

To Persist, to Ponder

Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi died on March 9 of lung cancer. He was, as I am, 37 years old. He had, as I do, a young daughter. (I also of course have a son.) Before he died, Kalanithi wrote about his mortality, the change in his experience of time, and what held meaning for him in his last days.

Time for me is double-edged: Every day brings me further from the low of my last cancer relapse, but every day also brings me closer to the next cancer recurrence — and eventually, death. Perhaps later than I think, but certainly sooner than I desire. There are, I imagine, two responses to that realization. The most obvious might be an impulse to frantic activity: to “live life to its fullest,” to travel, to dine, to achieve a host of neglected ambitions. Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time, it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. It is a tired hare who now races. But even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoiselike approach. I plod, I ponder, some days I simply persist.

Even to those of us whose end is not impending (as far as we know) this is a satisfactory state. To persist and ponder.

Kalanithi writes of his goals and achievements now belonging exclusively to the past, and I’m glad that at the same age as he, I need to not succumb to that feeling, though at times I can feel like being 37 means that all meaningful opportunities are now lost. It is a fallacy, but one whose fiction I must constantly remind myself of. Kalanithi’s piece helps.

Here’s part of why there is meaning in the middle ground, of reaching a point where, as he puts it, there is less “ascending” and more of a plateau. It’s a good plateau. (Forgive me, this is his final paragraph, so, I suppose “spoiler alert”?)

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

20150221_093538When my 2 1/2-year-old daughter greets me when I pick her up from daycare, she greets me with her whole self, throwing so much joy and love at me I can hardly take it all in. Things quickly move on to her inquiring frantically about the immediate availability of fruit snacks, but in those tiny welcoming seconds, I feel a lifetime of meaning.

An Unbearable Ache and an Unexpected Alphabet

I have highly mixed feelings about having my kids in daycare. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that they get a full day’s worth of attention, stimulation, exercize, education, social acclamation, and genuine care, every single day. It’s a great daycare, the kids love it, and we’re really lucky to have it available.
On the other hand, I can’t escape the fact that the majority of my kids’ waking hours are spent being taken care of by someone who’s not me or their mother. Our roles are reduced to mornings, evenings, and weekends. Like we’re sharing custody of our kids with the daycare teachers. When my first kid started being looked after by a nanny when he was a baby, I cried like a baby myself the night before out of the crushing guilt I felt for not being there to raise him all day myself.

It’s an economic reality, of course. If the math worked out differently, where one of us not working and staying home with the kids was more or less a wash with both of us working and keeping the kids in daycare, we might do that. Or if it worked out that one of us had a part-time job, and the kids were looked after only part of the week. But with the costs of living being what they are, there’s no escaping this arrangement until the kids are old enough to go to public school. And then it’s the school that’s got shared custody.

And even though I work from home, if you’ve had small children, there’s no getting anything done with two little kids around who need, well, everything. Having the kids stay home with me is not even close to being an option, at least until they’re old enough to more or less look after and amuse themselves with minimal supervision.

And look, even if we did have the kids to ourselves all the time, we couldn’t hope to provide the enrichment that this daycare does. They have the expertise, experience, and resources to make the kids’ days very fulfilling. We’d do our best, but they’d still be more or less stuck with mom or dad all the time.

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So anyway this is what got me thinking about this again: Today, out of nowhere, my 4-year-old boy starts writing down letters of the alphabet. Starts with A, gets down to G where he gets a little confused about which way it goes, manages H and I, and then gets similarly confused and then frustrated by J.

But I had no idea he could do this. A few months ago, he couldn’t color within the lines or draw, well, anything beyond a mash of scribbles (“it’s a storm!”). A few weeks ago, he started bringing home actual pictures of things that he’d drawn; firetrucks, houses, and members of his family. I was amazed by these, simply gushing over them.

And then today, he starts writing the alphabet, neatly, strictly within the lines of a piece of ruled paper. I don’t think he had any idea I’d be as blown away and proud as I was.

Would I have gotten him writing his alphabet if he were at home with me all day? I don’t know.

But he’s doing great. They both are. I miss them when they’re at daycare, and I hope my wife and I can get to the place where we don’t need to rely on it full time. Until then, my heart will still ache over relinquishing so much of their lives to others, but it won’t be an unbearable ache.

The iMortal Show, Episode 4: Unprecedented Parenting

Image by Shutterstock.

Kids these days, with their pixels and their googles and their tweeters.

But seriously, folks. Parents around my own age are among those straddling the line between the pre- and post-Internet world, the last generation of moms and dads who grew up without ubiquitous connectivity. With no preexisting template for how to raise a kid in a world of smartphones and social media, we’re left to make it up as we go along, to try and make wise choices for our kids while still figuring out how all of this new technology fits into our own lives. It’s a lot to juggle!

To talk about kids, parenting, and tech, I’ve got two great guests, Catherine Dunphy and Chris Sawyer.

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Subscribe in iTunes or by RSS. You can download this episode here.

The iMortal Show, Episode 4: “Unprecedented Parenting”

Originally recorded October 16, 2014.

Produced and hosted by Paul Fidalgo.

Theme music by Smooth McGroove, used with permission.

Running time: 56 minutes

Links from the show:

What Old Dad Can Offer

Lee Siegel on being the father of young kids while in his 50s:

[I]t isn’t too difficult to squelch the regret that I didn’t have children at a younger age. If I had, I wouldn’t be experiencing the joy of these two particular precious darlings. I wouldn’t have known a little more about life, as I do now, or had the same ironic distance from myself that the years have brought me. Blissfully, I experience no yuppie torments about the duties and sacrifices of parenthood. On the contrary. I’m grateful to my children for helping me grow out of my own childish narcissism.

This mostly rings true as the dad of two wee ones at the age of 36. I was far too stupid in my early 20s to have been responsible for children, and while I’m no dad of the century now, I’m far more able to keep things in relative perspective, and to see things from a useful distance at this age. I’m a little wiser than I might have been, though the bar is low.

But being in my 30s, both my wife and I are still subject to the “yuppie torments,” the endless comparison of our own parenting to others’ — especially since so many within our cohort have reproduced at roughly the same time. It’s pointless baggage, it never helps us parent any better, but we’re still vulnerable to it. Thanks, Facebook!

More Siegel:

The plan is to make myself so present in their thoughts and feelings that my immortality will be guaranteed—life cycles be damned.

I have no illusions of immortality of any kind through my kids, but this is my goal nonetheless; to be their absolute safe place, their lives’ olly olly oxen free, the person from whom they will always draw strength and love. If I do it right, it will still be so when I’m gone.

(Here is a drawing I just did about how I feel about my amazing boy as he outgrows me and everything else. The girl amazes me must the same, but she’s a baby to me, and therefore not yet outgrowing me for now…for now!)