Lessons Learned: My Year in Parenting, 2013Serge Bielanko
Just like anybody else, I tend to spend the days around New Year’s Eve looking back on my year contemplating a couple of things:
1) Where did the time go? The older I get, the faster the days seem to slide by. Unless, of course, I am in one of my desperate states of wishing that some awful period of full moon fever would just hurry up and split. Then, I feel like somewhat hit the ‘Pause’ button and I’m just stuck in a rut.
2) Was I a good person? Whenever we use retrospect as a platform to peer back over some period of our recent past, it only makes sense to try and figure out if we did the best we could on a daily basis for the people we love.
3.) Did I learn anything worthwhile? This one is probably the most important one as well as the most harrowing. It’s easy to stand in front of the mirror and tell ourselves that our latest year of life was a fulfilling one, that we made improvements based upon our mistakes and that we took something valuable away from the last 365 days. But, it requires a little courage and gall to be brutally honest with ourselves, too. As I get older, I really try and look at my life with a critical eye at the end of every year, because, let’s face it, there is absolutely no way in the world that I did everything right. Not even close.
So, as the hours tick away and another one is nearly in the books, I thought it might be cool to look back at my own year of being a dad. Come on along with me then, as I try and honestly think about what each passing month taught me when it comes to my kids; what I have learned from them, as well as any good stuff I may have been able to pass on to them.
And just to keep stuff interesting, I promise I’ll be pretty hard on myself, okay?
I thought you’d like that.
Nothing’s Perfect 1 of 16
Over the past year, I have come to embrace the fact that nothing is perfect in life. I used to run around thinking that I wasn't doing enough in my world, that I wasn't making great and wondrous things happen all by myself. But here towards the end of 2013, thanks to a lot of stuff happening, some good and some bad, I feel like I have finally woken up from a seriously long slumber to find out that, if you are a good person, and if you love the people closest to you as hard as you possibly can, telling them what they mean to you very often, your life is way greater than you had ever even imagined it could be.
Finding Balance 2 of 16
I have always been a hopeless romantic, for better or worse, seeing the world through the eyes of of a guy who often concentrates on the littlest things, like my kid playing a harmonica on his birthday or the way the sunlight hits my wife's hair as we drive down the road on a summer evening.
At times, I think that kind of mindset has worked against me, causing me to neglect the big important stuff adults should be good at, like financial stuff and all. But this past year I finally realized that there is a balance to be had, between the starry-eyed dreamer daddy and the responsible man of the house. I'm looking forward to 2014, because, believe it or not, I'm about to be that guy for the first time in my life.
Just Watch 3 of 16
Something incredibly heavy and worthwhile that I learned in 2013 is that you can often accomplish more as a dad or a husband or a man if you just step back away from your constant inner-commentary on a daily basis. Try it. Just step outside your bad self and watch and witness what a remarkable little world is unfolding all around you, every single minute of every single day. I know that sounds sappy, and it is. But it's also really darn true, too.
Mom 4 of 16
Recently, I really managed to stop and look at just how lucky my kids are to have a woman like their mother in their lives. Too often, the people we love the most, like parents or partners, are the ones we tend to take for granted, thinking that they will always be there. We hardly ever just stop in our tracks and stand in awe of the fact of just how supremely important they are in our children's lives. Well, in 2013 I took the time to watch and realize what a great mother she really is.
Togetherness 5 of 16
As the year has come and gone, it has occurred to me that even though you can get really annoyed by the fact that family life is often really challenging, and that you end up spending so much darn time with the same couple of people, that isn't really a bad thing at all if you handle it right. Sure, we all need some space and some air and some respite from the same cast of characters now and then, no matter how much we love them, in order to keep our minds straight and our sense of self intact.
However, when it all comes down to it: the very notion of not seeing any or all of the three or four people that mean the most to me, who actually help define who I have become at age 42, even for a day or two, is an idea that I'm not all that fond of. So yeah, the never-ending battle between alone time and family time rages on.
Fearlessness 6 of 16
I used to be really nervous about every single move my two kids, Violet, 4, and Henry, 2, were making. I'd shadow them, helicopter-parenting each of them until my head would practically just fall off of my shoulders. I like to think I've changed a lot in 2013, in regards to that, though. Partially due to my wife's more relaxed approach to everyday parenting, and partially due to the fact that I realized that I was probably doing more harm than good, I've started to just let my kids wander more freely and experience most things that we do in their own way.
Sure sure, that might lead to a few more bee stings or maybe even some dirty looks from other utlra-active helicopter-parents, but that's totally cool with me. Why? Well, I'll be over in the shade, sipping lemonade, if you really want to know.
The Art of Listening 7 of 16
Over the last year, I think I've made some pretty good discoveries about myself, both as a dad and a husband. Probably the most valuable thing I've uncovered, though, after 42 years of more or less unconditional self-absorbed living, is that being a really attentive listener very well might be the key to being the greatest man ever who ever lived. Whether it's with my two-year-old son or with my wife or even just with some stranger in line at the grocery store, when I listen to the words and thoughts that someone is sharing with me, I am learning something at every turn, and with that, I feel like I'm able to maybe help them feel a little better about their own day.
That sounds petty or small in way, I guess. But it's honestly one of the most awesome things I have ever discovered about living.
Full Stop 8 of 16
Being totally fascinated by the fact that my kids are both growing up so fast and that, like any parent, I don't want to miss a damn thing, this past year found me breaking new ground when it comes to my time. Nowadays, even at my busiest, when I'm trying to do some writing on my computer or I'm in the middle of putting together something to eat because I am hungry like the wolf, if one of my kids appears in front of me and wants to show me something they just colored or how their plastic rhino is pretending to poop out in the living room, I make every effort possible to just drop what I am doing for a second or two and indulge them.
It's not always easy or practical, obviously, but, truth be told, in 2013 I have found that I have never ever regretted making the effort either.
Let Stuff Go 9 of 16
The first time or two that I noticed some original crayon art on the walls of my house, I'll man up here and admit that I wanted to freak out and punish the main offenders. But, then something odd and kind of beautiful happened and I noticed that the looks in the eyes of my son and daughter ( aka 'the guilty') revealed not even a trace of remorse or regret.
That right there made me realize something pretty enlightening. They actually believed that what they had done was cool and artistic and something to behold. I learned a seriously valuable lesson then: perceptions are everything. And while I would much rather have been able to deflect their arty ways onto some paper or even a tabletop as opposed to on several walls in our home, I just let it go with a good talking to and a promise to not do it again. Just so you know, too, I left a few of the masterpieces on the wall and they make me smile every day, more than anything else I could have ever hung there. That has to mean something, huh?
The Look in Their Eyes 10 of 16
I've always been thrilled by the very notion that, if I played my cards pretty right and tried hard to be a good dad, my kids would always admire me and trust me. And love me. Yet, I don't think I was ever really prepared for the revelation that came to me over the past year, as I began to truly notice just how much of a sparkle there is in their eyes whenever my son or daughter is looking at their mom or me.
Put plainly, there is massive love in those young eyes, an overwhelming sense of wanting us to approve and smile. Even further than that, I sense this need coming off of them, whenever our eyes connect, a need for us to understand just how much that we mean to them. That has lifted me in ways I never thought possible this year, and it will be a source of strength and confirmation for me for the rest of my life, I suspect. Listen, I'm not perfect and don't I know it, but just a simple look into their tiny eyeballs often makes me feel like I'm doing something really, really right. And I need that. Heck, we all do.
Hold Them 11 of 16
I have no real clue what any of us can do as parents that can help foster the kind of magically deep and forever bond we might achieve with our kids if we just get lucky. Even so, in 2013 I started grabbing my two wild animals up into my lap and squeezing them whenever I get the chance; even when it annoys the hell out of them, which is pretty often.
See, the way I see it, the more they know that my arms are always available to them to fall into, whether they really want to or need to or not, the more likely they will be to carry that undercurrent of love with them no matter how far they may wander from my big fat fists. In other words, no matter who they become or what they may experience, they will always know that I am there, waiting, to hug them back in. At least, I sure hope they do.
School! 12 of 16
This year was the year that school and everything associated with it finally hit me like a comet falling out of the stars onto my thick head. With my daughter going to prekindergarten for the first time, all of the sudden I was swept up and blown away by the explosive realization that: Oh My God! She is going to real school! And next year will be real kindergarten and real teachers and the start of the first of three educations, three futures in our growing family. They will be the most important educations I will ever know, too; Violet's and Henry's and their new little brother's, who is joining us soon.
It is mind-boggling for me to imagine all that is coming my way, the homework and the school plays and the drama of puppy love and proms and all of that. Yet, it is also one of the most thrilling things that I realized in 2013. My baby girl is headed to school. Wow. Just...wow.
Girls and Boys 13 of 16
Having a daughter and a son has been one of the coolest things that has happened to me in this lifetime I'm living out over here. There are a lot for reasons for that, I guess, but one of them, the one that really struck me in 2013, is that in a day and age where gender lines and the old traditions stapled to them still exist in a lot of ways, I am glad to be part of a husband and wife team where we could care less about any of that.
If you ever had the kahunas to look me in the eye and tell me that it's weird that my young little boy likes to mess around with nail polish or that it seems odd that my daughter likes to play with boys more than girls, I would more than likely just smile a tight smile and walk away from you. For what it's worth though, you would never share my company again.
In 2013, I decided that I want my kids to make themselves comfortable doing whatever the hell they want to do as long as they don't hurt anyone. And I'm actually pretty proud that I feel that way, too.
Case in Point 14 of 16
Dude loves his big sister. Wants to be just like her. And that's just fine by me.
Patience is Everything 15 of 16
I was never a patient man, honestly. As a younger guy, I wanted to take huge alligator bites out of every single day and I never wanted to wait to do it either. Lots of people are like that in their youth, I guess, and come to think of it, that might not even be a bad thing considering the whole' seize the day' aura that often comes along with the young and ambitious. However, now that I am a father in his 40s, and a husband to a very important lady in my world, I have come,ever so slowly,to finally comprehend that patience is more of a God than any God in any proverbial sky from here to fifty galaxies away.
Patience can make or break your world in an instant. Lacking patience can make you the most unattractive human on the planet; trust me, my friend, for I know. That said, as 2013 fades off in the rearview, I am pretty proud that I have tapped into the more patient side of myself as a a dad. I'm no master, I'll admit that much, but whatever. I'm heading in that direction, man. And I can tell you that it feels awesome.
Luck 16 of 16
Let it be known that of all the fools who have ever walked across the dirt, rocks, or sand that make up this beautiful old planet, no man has ever been a bigger fool than me at my worst. If they had an MVP trophy for being an idiot, you can rest assured that I would have won it at least 3 or 4 times in my life so far. One thing is for certain though. With a new little boy coming down the pipeline to us, and two beautiful kids that love to snuggle and raise hell in perfectly equal parts, I have, over the last year, realized just what a truly lucky man I am. Happy New Year. May the force be with you.
All Images: S. Bielanko