The home stretch

This week marks the final third of my parental leave. In just one month, KRH will be start day care. Shortly after, I’ll be returning to my day job in communications for a nonprofit.

This leaves me with somewhat mixed emotions.  I’ve had a lot of fun being at home with KRH. We’ve gone on lots of walks, visited my parents, been to some classes, and just generally spent time together. And I’ve had a good time, but it’s also been a lot of work, to the point where my secondary goals for the summer (things like working on my eating, and writing, and such) have been basically non-existent.

I knew my summer would be busy, and yet it caught me by surprise. I think maybe I wasn’t expecting just how much even a small thing could throw off a day. I imagined I could get into a schedule of naps that would allow me to get things done. But sometimes, KRH just throws out a big fuck you to naps and so he’s fussy all the time. Or he gets us up three times a night and I’m bagged the next day. Or my timing is slightly off and we miss a nap, or he naps in the car for five minutes, or there’s laundry or chores or other things to do.

So long story short, while I’ve enjoyed this summer, most of those goals remain undone. Of course, when I go back to work, I don’t think I’m going to suddenly have a lot more time to do these things. In fact, I’m probably going to have less. That’s going to present its own challenge, and it’s one I hope I’ll be able to deal with once I have a rhythm and a schedule and things that I don’t have right now.

Still, I can look back on the last 10 weeks with some pride. I’ve learned a lot about parenting, about KRH, and about what my wife has been through. I’ve learned to handle fussy days and missed naps and changing schedules and stormy periods. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn, but I’m more in sync with KRH than before. Furthermore, I’ve learned that despite that I really wanted this, it’s not really what I want to do full time (perhaps because I imagined I’d have a lot more time to write and stay organized and cook and clean and all that). Full-time stay at home parenting isn’t what I really aspire to, at least not as I’ve experienced it right now.

I wouldn’t say that I’m eager to go back to work (they’ve been calling me about some technical things and I’ve racked up a bunch of hours in the last few weeks and even more spent worrying). But I am looking forward to the opportunity to change things up and find new ways of doing things that will, I hope, be a lot more sustainable. What it will look like, I’m not certain, but I intend for it to have opportunities for both writing and for lots of quality time with my family.

White supremacy and parenthood

I didn’t see this coming. If you’d asked me, a year or two ago, what I figured one of the key issues of the early years of KRH’s life would be, I’d have never said white supremacy. Even last year, I would never have supposed you’d see actual Nazis marching the streets of the United States on the scale we recently witnessed.

It isn’t as if I thought it could never happen. I spent a lot of my university degree exploring the rise of fascism and the Second World War, so I consider myself academically fluent in their existence and many of the methods they’re employing today. In fact, while I was going to school in the mid 2000s, I would often joke about street battles with Nazis, because at the time Lethbridge (where I went to school) had a white supremacist movement, as did my home town. But at the time, it felt laughable. We’d beaten the Nazis. They were just clinging to an ideology that millions of brave men and women helped bury.

Instead, in 2017, it’s clear that fascist ideology remains a powerful force. And not just fascism, but the white identity that goes with it.

I find this alarming and disturbing. I was lucky enough to spent a number of years involved in a program called CISV, a youth peace education movement which allowed me to visit Japan and Norway and meet a lot of people from a lot of other cultures. I learned we have nothing to fear from the other, a belief I still hold to this day. I think societies with more viewpoints are stronger, not weaker.

So what do we do about white supremacists? We have our share in Canada, emboldened by events to the south and in Europe. I think it’s incumbent on me, as a white guy, a citizen and a parent, to challenge these ideologies where I can. I’m lucky that I don’t think I know anyone who harbours these kinds of thoughts, but people don’t have to be outright Nazis to sympathize with many of their ideas, given how easily they play on our cultural fears. And it is hugely important for me to try and share my own beliefs about equality, tolerance, justice and kindness with KRH, especially in an age when young white people are just a web search away from radicalization.

Furthermore, I think it’s critical that we avoid the kind of political climate that leads to strengthening these ideas. I think that’s exactly what Canadians did when they rejected the barbaric cultural practices hotline and other fearmongering in 2015, but those ideas were merely pushed back, not defeated. We must recognize that right-wing politics is not always tied to ideas like fear of the other, but reject it whenever it is.

And for those brave enough and willing to do it? I think outright confrontation of these ideas is important. If white supremacists come into our streets and threaten us with violence, oppression and death, then we must respond. I have a complicated relationship with punching Nazis and although I find it satisfying, it isn’t an approach I would personally take. But, I do think it’s important for good people to reject and oppose these ideas at every turn.

A Man For All Seasons isn’t a political blog. It’s a blog about writing and parenthood. But in 2017, that requires the acknowledgement of white supremacy and fascism. I believe that we all must stop what we’re doing and take notice of what’s going on.

Logistics mode: Daddy edition

An idea my wife and I picked up some time ago is about “logistics mode.” From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, the idea is simply, for mothers, it’s easy to get caught in a whirlwind of Things That Need Doing, to the point where your brain fixates on these things.

I thought, until recently, that I understood this fairly well. I consider myself an equal partner in the life my wife and I have made together. We’ve always been a bit non-traditional, so getting planning for meals, getting groceries and cooking were always mostly my jobs, while my wife took care of our money management and more irregular household things. Also, acts of service is one of my main love languages, so if I spot something (the dishes are a good example) that are technically my wife’s job, I’ll often do it, because I want her to have free time. Surely it was normal to have a head buzzing full of Things That Needed Doing.

What I’ve learned since I started parental leave, though, is that it isn’t just having an ongoing list in your brain. It’s more like a set of handcuffs. And I think I finally understand what my wife went through for the first 8 months of KRH’s life.

Over the last few years, I tried as much as I could to take things off my wife’s plate. Even before she got pregnant, she was under a lot of stress, so in my way I took on things to try and help with that. I acquired a lot of small chores, like feeding the cats, cutting the lawn, cleaning litterboxes. None of these were large chores, but I wanted to try and take them off my wife’s to-do list. Then along came KRH, and I certainly wasn’t handing any of those back.

Since I went on parental leave, I’ve been trying to do just about everything I can. Indeed, I’ve felt like I have to, like these things are the prerequisites to being a good Dad. So I’ve been doing errands, laundry, all the cleaning I can, and so on. Plus, I take care of KRH from the moment my wife leaves, until after she’s home and fed and ready to take him on for a while. And since KRH still doesn’t take a bottle and my wife is working, I listen for him on the baby monitor at night, and I jump up to get him and bring him to my wife, and then take him back to his crib after. Finally, we’ve had a few weeks where we’ve been away on weekends or otherwise busy, so even our joint-cooking sessions have fallen on me. And my time to do more or less everything is during naps and after my wife gets home.

I don’t want anyone to think my wife isn’t pulling her weight. She works hard during the day, and as I’ve started to get overwhelmed with these things she’s been pushing me to communicate and tell he what I need to take off my to-do list. But I feel a bit paralyzed by the sheer number of things it takes to keep this household running to whatever my apparent standard is. And even when I do have down time (which my wife makes sure I get), I can’t seem to use it how I want, which is mostly for writing. As such, I’m not making much of any progress.

I knew, of course, that my writing would suffer when I went on parental leave. But I didn’t expect the level to which it has. This week marks the halfway point of that leave, and I’m feeling more than a touch down on myself, because I have a high expectation for myself when it comes to myself. Apparently, that expectation does not adjust to include children.

So what am I doing to try and get past this? Well, I’m trying to free up mental space and loosen those handcuffs. Here’s how.

Meditation always makes me feel calmer, more focused, and generally happier. And for some reason, as soon as I get stressed, it’s always the first thing to fall to the wayside. That doesn’t make sense, but I think a lot of our culture encourages us to sacrifice self-care when the going gets tough.  So, I’m trying to carve out at least a little bit of time for meditation every day.

Cutting out social media
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Social media distracts focus. I find it easy to get distracted by whatever god-awful daily nightmare is going on south of the border. Twitter, in particular, is my poison. There’s real value and importance in keeping aware of what’s going on in the news, and I think dis-engaging from politics is itself an act that only the very privileged can take. But I do need to stop focusing on things that interrupt my train of thought and steal my time. So, I’m blocking Twitter on my phone during the day.

Get permission for self-care
Nobody needs permission for self care. But in a situation where my not doing things means someone else has to, self-care is one of those things that can fall by the wayside. My wife, aware that I’m struggling, gave me permission to leave some things like dishes or tidying for her when she gets home. This helps me feel better about using time like naps for self-care.

The darkest timeline

A joke I commonly make with my gaming friends is that whenever something bad happens, that we’re in “the darkest timeline.”  Meanwhile, authors I admire have been making the comment for months that we are already in said timeline. For some reason, that truth hit home for me today. And it scares me more than a little.

I’m Canadian, and we turned back our own tide of xenophobia and anti-LGBTQ racism here in 2015. But those forces, emboldened by what’s going on in the United States, are still lurking around here. And even if they weren’t, I’m a queer, progressive guy. It feels like in the space of less than a year, that the world has become a darker, more dangerous place for people like me and people like me.

What really gets to me, though, is that this is the world that KRH is going to have to grow up in. No matter what happens in 2020 in the United States, or in whatever European country is going to face down their fascist party next, these forces aren’t going away. I’ve heard it commented that it’s no surprise that fascists are re-emerging as the last of the veterans of the Second World War are passing. Whoever those people are, they hate people like me. I hope they’ll hate who my son is going to become, but I also wish I could spare him from this timeline completely.

I think it was today’s news about Transgender people being banned from the US military that did it for me. This doesn’t effect anyone that I personally know, and may not even be enacted. The reminder is that there are a lot of people who hate and want to hurt those who are vulnerable. For those people, there’s no right won that can’t be clawed back, and no way to small to injure or damage people who are LGBTQ. And I have to oppose them, because the world I want KRH to grow up in is one that’s kind, compassionate and one that takes care of the most vulnerable.

For me, this feels so stark because KRH arrived mere weeks before November 8th, when this timeline came to a head. In a lot of ways, nothing has changed, because there have always been those who oppose making the world a better place. But in a lot of ways I was insulated from that, and in others I was protected from seeing it so often. Now social media delivers fresh nightmares to my eyes daily, and it does it far closer to home than ever before.

So how do I keep my sanity in this dark timeline? I already outlined my personal manifesto for resistance. My job is to follow that as best I can in the days, months and years ahead. I won’t always be perfect and there will be times when I can’t. But this timeline is too dark to do anything else than my absolute best. The risks are too great. Everything is at stake. And I have something to fight for.

Creative Fuel: May and June

The last few months have been a bit of a blur, without a lot of time for the usual ways I creatively fuel myself. May involved a lot of overtime to try and prepare for my parental leave, and June has mostly been taking care of and entertaining KRH, which left me with less time than I anticipated. Still, I found time for a few books, games and things.

The Bourbon Thief

Tiffany Reisz is a favourite of mine. Her book The Siren hit me in all kinds of tender places, and left me thinking about it for weeks afterward. Erotic romance isn’t a genre for everyone, but I enjoy it and so I enjoyed The Bourbon Thief. Perhaps it didn’t leave me as sore as some of her previous books, and it was probably tamer than most, but it was very good and very gripping.

The Productive Writer

Not fiction at all, but necessary. It turns out that this act of writing with KRH around isn’t as simple as I’d hoped it would be. It’s not impossible, but a wise writer looks for help wherever he can get it, and I found some helpful thoughts about the mindset of writing, as well as scheduling, organization and planning. This is a book that I definitely found useful for making use of the time I have, and I’m going to be applying some things I’ve learned going forward.

The Curious Expedition

This is the perfect sort of game for the limited time I have right now, when it’s possible to play just one expedition. Take on the role of famous explorers, scientists and others and lead them to fame, glory, and most likely horrible deaths at the hands of angry natives, starvation or weirder occurrences. Both my wife and I have had a blast with this game, and there’s still more that we haven’t discovered.

Print Run

I’m not a person who normally listens to podcasts. I find it difficult to focus on what someone is saying unless I’m actually paying attention, meaning that if I put a podcast on in the background I’m basically going to miss it all. But it turns out that a podcast is the perfect level of attention for when I’m playing with or feeding KRH. Literary agents Erik Hane and Laura Zats discuss literature, agenting, and if you become a Patreon subscriber, also offer special critique episodes for first pages and queries. This has helped me stay in the literary mindset even when my fingers are far away from a keyboard.

On parenting and loss

KRH with his older brother and sister.

KRH was supposed to have had two siblings.

Let me back up a bit.

My wife and I lost two children to miscarriage in 2015. We lost both of them early enough that we don’t know anything about who they would have been, but we named them Caden and Aerin. Of course, had either of them made it, we certainly wouldn’t have had KRH, and I like him a rather lot so I think my timeline is pretty good.

For my wife and I, 2015 was a pretty dark year. We’d spent a lot of time imaging our life with children (in fact it’s been not at all like we imagined, but that’s a different story) and so the loss of two pregnancies made us confront, for the first time, that this parenting thing simply wasn’t all the fun we’d imagined it to be. Instead, we had to deal with heartbreak and the feeling of failure, and for a while we wondered if it would even happen for us.

We did our best to move on. We made marker stones for each of the two and  grieved as best we could. And we got lucky, and our third pregnancy became KRH. We went into that pregnancy much more anxious and less optimistic than our first ones, and indeed each week was intensely stressful in different ways. But we survived it.

Last weekend, we took KRH out to where we have the marker stones for the first time. I’ve always found visiting them to be very sorrowful, because they represent the loss of a future, however imagined. So to put our smiling baby next to them was an experience that was very somber. We did, in the end, get what we wanted, and I think we are happier and stronger for the experience. And in many ways, having KRH has healed us from the experience of losing the first two, because now that future is becoming real, and before where we had loss, now we have life.

Still, seeing him next to those stones is to imagine something that could have been.

Querying and Stars and Strollers

Recently, KRH and I went to go see Wonder Woman. I’d heard great things and all my friends managed to go see it without me (a not unusual occurrence these days). Even my wife took KRH and went about a month ago.

There’s a great thing at our local theatre called Stars and Strollers. They have an early afternoon showing with the lights brighter and the sound turned down. There’s room to park strollers and the ticket is cheaper. I love this, and my wife saw a fair number of movies with KRH. So, I ought to be able to do the same, huh?

Well, it didn’t go great. I planned things so that we’d arrive right around nap time, hoping KRH would sleep, as he often does in his car seat. He had no interest in doing that. There was too much going on, and then he got overtired. That led to him switching between fussing and crying for the first hour of the movie. He was by far the loudest baby there, so I gave up and left so other people could enjoy the film.

It was a disappointing end to a day, not only because I’d been enjoying what parts of the movie I could pay attention to, but because I’d hoped to go to Stars and Strollers a lot and it didn’t work well. Also, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get KRH calmed down to do what he needed to (nap), and he disrupted other people’s enjoyment of something. I felt like a bad parent. It wasn’t a great experience.

I have been querying, that toil of searching for an agent, for a couple of years now. I’ve had some success in getting positive responses, but not so far getting a full manuscript request. Believe it or not, I think querying and going to see the movie are an example of the same thing; not setting myself up for success.

Here’s why I think this. My wife reported that KRH didn’t like the sounds when she saw Wonder Woman, and he had a hard time staying still. To counter this, I brought his baby earmuffs to block the sound, but he objected to wearing them and would take them off, even though he didn’t like the sound when he did. Also, I went with him being tired. I know he doesn’t often nap in his car seat unless he’s in the backseat and the car is in motion. But that’s what I expected him to do.

At the same time, when it comes to my queries, I spent some time researching how authors I like had gotten their agents. I researched the agents. I spent time rewriting and rereading my queries, and I had other people look at them for feedback. In short, I felt like I knew how to write a query.

Writing a good query is as much an art as it is a science. Agents get thousands of queries. Naturally, they skim and send a lot of form rejections. And form rejections was mostly what I’ve been getting. That means the problem was probably with my query. And it turns out, there’s a great resource (Queryshark) for looking at an agent’s feedback on the form of a query, with hundreds of examples. I’d looked at some of them, but I hadn’t really read through the archives.

That’s a task I’ve been working on over the last few weeks. And I learned a lot about what a good query needs to accomplish, as well as a lot about sentence structure and clarity. In other words, there was a resource, and I wasn’t using it.

In both cases, I wasn’t setting myself up for success. I’m sure I’ll do that again, but this feels like a good example

Organizing for Creativity

I’m a firm believer that physical stuff also occupies a place in my mind. Clutter and disorganization requires me to spend time and energy thinking about things that aren’t my priorities. I’m always interested in ways to make my life simpler, and that includes reducing the amount of stuff we have.

My wife wrote a wonderful article about the work we’ve been doing (by which I mean mostly her) to simplify our house and life. She says it well, so you should read it here.

On Father’s Day

So this Father’s Day, I realized I was a father.

This might not exactly seem like a real leap. After all, I’ve been parenting for 8 months. We knew our lives were going to change starting last year. Really, I’ve had a long time to get used to this.

And yet.

Parenthood, I feel like, is one of the few roles in life that can never be changed. Jobs and relationships can be ended. But once a parent, always a parent. And now I’m a parent. What does that mean to me? It means trying to raise a child into an independent adult. But more than that, it makes me responsible (with my wife) to do that for KRH. What’s best for him is now a permanent part of the calculus of my life.

Today, Kameron Hurley’s podcast reminded me of something. Having a child is inherently a hopeful act. In the same way that planting a garden looks forward to a better world, so too does having children.

The state of the world has always mattered to me, because I live there, and so do all the people I love and care about, and even those I don’t care about. But to have a child is to believe that the world is becoming a better place. It’s to believe that I can make the world a better place. I darn well better, because I’ve made the conscious choice to bring an entirely new person into it.

We live in threatening times. I think all times seem that way, when viewed from the inside, but at no point in my 33 years do things seem potentially bleaker than today. It is in many ways our darkest timeline. But we’ve decided to raise a child in it. I now have one more reason to fight for a better world.

I think you can make a pretty good moral argument that improving the lives of everyone is a pretty fine reason to try and do your part in making the world better, even in small ways. But I’m not responsible for anyone else in the world in the way I am for KRH. I’m no longer just fighting for my world. I’m fighting for his, too.

This is part of the Fatherhood I’ve realized. And I’m glad for it. I didn’t know this until now, but I’ve signed on for something much bigger than I first thought.

The first week

It turns out that entertaining a baby all day is hard!

I mean, I knew that. It’s not news. I did it when my wife was out of the house over the past eight months.  But this is the first time I’ve been the primary person. There is nobody to hand KRH to if I run out of ideas or he gets inconsolably fussy. And so far, that hasn’t happened a lot, but it has happened.

Here’s where I’m at. Because KRH still doesn’t reliably take milk from a bottle or cup, we wake him up at 6:45 before my wife goes to work, so he can nurse. Then she’s out of the door shortly after 7. That’s a very different schedule than KRH had before, where he would often sleep until 8 or 9 am. So he’s getting used to a very different schedule than before.

Now, KRH is a pretty okay napper, but sometimes he’ll sleep for 1.5 hours, and sometimes for more like 30 minutes. Unfortunately, with him getting up much earlier, his short naps won’t cut it. So one of my first jobs is getting him used to a new nap rhythm. We’re only a few days into this, so I can’t really say how we’re doing.

We have been keeping fairly busy. Monday, we ran errands and went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. We didn’t really see any fun birds (only ducks) but it was a nice walk and picnic. Yesterday was rainy, so we mostly stayed inside and played, except for going to the gym, where KRH played with childcare. Today, we’re going to lunch with my Mom, and if it stops raining we’ll go on a walk, and maybe play with the cloth strips my wife made for him.

Whew. In some ways, its harder than I expected. In others, I’m finding it alright. I’m finding little bits of time here and there to myself, with which i’m not really writing yet, but I am doing some important writing-related work (queries) and listening to writing-related podcasts (currently Print Run and Get To Work Hurley).

I want to figure out the rhythm of the day (to both KRH and myself) before I start sitting down to write. I need to know how to snatch 10 minutes here or a paragraph there, without neglecting KRH in any way. That’s how I’m going to get things done over the next couple of months, and indeed over the next couple of years.

And on that note, I’d better get on with some other things before KRH wakes up from his latest nap. It’s only been a few days of this so I anticipate having more to talk about in the coming days and weeks. Until then!