In loss; in solidarity

Recently, two beloved friends lost a parent each. Both played important roles in holding me together after my dad died. In the process of plans and plane tickets and memorials and house-selling and moving, life was senseless. I wish I was present for you the way you were for me. I know you don’t require reciprocation. I am so sorry you know this moment.

The death of my father has had a unique, mercurial identity. An ever-present emptiness. A film of metaphysical opacity. Life has taken on a daily both/and; I am happy and I am hurting. I am present at my work and I am distracted by grief. I laugh with my son and I want to cry. In death, impossible contradictions are the only things that make sense.

Well-meaning others acknowledge the death of my father. Have advice and condolences. Some of whom have lost somebody, or many bodies. And still nobody knows it in its visceral, aching intimacy. My grief is wholly personal; as I imagine is yours. I won’t pretend to know your experience. And I am in solidarity with your being in the midst of it.

My grief has been an animal with wiry hair and sharp claws. It scurries around too fast for me to catch it. It’s good at hiding. It whispers from dark corners and screams when the light gets in. Sometimes it will be a song on the radio. A picture that pops up unexpectedly. An anniversary on the calendar. A simple question of “How are you doing?” Then the animal devours the moment, leaving a bloody trail of psychospiritual viscera. And the moment passes, life continuing on with its internet memes, news stories of atrocity, and mundane conversations about the weather.

I have noticed a few truths. It helps me to write about the experience. To sit in solitude and consider my mental, emotional and physical health. I am compelled into more honesty and vulnerability with people in my life. My survival demands that I get help where and when I can. A spirit of life and love invites me to live the practice of letting go of everything that does not bring light into my life. Because the animal inside needs darkness. And it will eat me alive if I let it.

To my friends and loved ones who can only nod and say “I know.” I see you. I hear you. And I love you. We do this alone, and we do this together.

A good friend gave me this. And now I give it to you:

Sometimes I fail at being a parent, and that’s ok.

Tobias has officially put himself to sleep. Radio Paradise is playing in the background. The living room is dim with filtered light from the window shades. I think I can squeeze a blog post out before he wakes up. Let the contest begin!

Tobias is a little more than seven months old. In that time, Heather and I have received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. Our friend Meghan organized a meal train when he was born, which for a few weeks unloaded the burden of trying to figure out what to eat. I think it was more for our own safety. In our sleep deprived states we shouldn’t have been handling sharp objects or cooking appliances anyways.

Both Heather and my parents visited. They gave us some time to go out by ourselves and remember what it was like to be adults. I knew newborns were a lot of work. I didn’t understand just how immensely time consuming they are. I admit that I was incredibly naïve as a new dad; of course a baby eats spacetime for breakfast. They’re like little black holes which consume all the chores and intentions within their event horizon, which I figure is around 50 meters or so.

We joined a PEPs (Program for Early Parent Support) group. Eight couples within our general neighborhood all with babies around the same age came together to reassure ourselves that we are NOT going crazy. I highly recommend this program for all new parents. It was crucial for me to connect with other people going through a similar immense life transition. We were able to share advise, tip, tricks, or just be able to vent our frustrations.

The most important rule was no judging. There are a lot of resources out there for new parents. Support groups, meetups, internet forums; you name it. However, I found that these resources come with hazard signs. Warning: Judgement Ahead! It makes sense that people become incredibly invested in their parenting styles. It’s hard to admit doing something wrong when it comes to my own child. Because if I do something wrong, then I’m a horrible parent, right?

However, Heather and I have noticed that even with all the immense research, resources and advice available, much of it is contradictory and only applies to what “may” work, not what “will” work. My limited observations lead me to believe that like people, babies are complex individuals. Yet people dishing out advice seem to think that their own baby and parenting style is the end all be all of what a parent “should” and “shouldn’t” do.

Our baby has tongue tie. We “should” get it fixed. (we didn’t and Toby is fine) You shouldn’t be using that carrier, you’ll ruin his legs and pelvis. (Toby’s legs and pelvis are fine) You should be feeding your baby “only” breast milk; if not then you’re a horrible parent. (we do feed Toby only breast milk, but know other people who don’t and their babies are happy and healthy) The list goes on and on. It seems that parents are sometimes the most horrible judge, jury and executioners of other parents. My opinion is it’s because we somehow believe that if we’re making “different” choices, then we’re making “wrong” choices.

I’m not saying that with babies, anything goes. Obviously there are many things a parent shouldn’t do. But it seems to me that parents deserve more compassion than judgement, more “You’re doing awesome” rather than “I know what you should do.” I know I make mistakes and bad decisions every day. Heck, before writing this blog I plopped Toby in front of the TV with a bottle and Sesame Street so I could take a quick 10 minute shower, get dressed and finish my coffee. But I did this only after we played for 2 hours and he was getting hungry and fussy. It’s all about balance and survival.

Now he is fast asleep. And he is a happy, healthy, loved little boy. Despite my mistakes. As horrible as parents can be to each other, my little boy seems to be the most capable of forgiveness. When he smiles and babbles at me, I pretend he’s saying “I know you’re doing the best you can dad. I love you.” I know I need this much more than “If you keep doing that you’re going to ruin your child.” Let’s all try to be cool to one another. We’re all in this together and we need as much support from friends, family and other parents as we can get. One thing I’ve learned is that it really does take a village because sometimes I fail at being a parent. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Learning how to share all over again…

Share all the tools!
Share all the tools!

One of my goals for owning my first home is to keep it free of stuff. This includes the garage. Unfortunately, the garage is already filling up with things. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, living spaces seem to follow the same rules. However, Heather and I found a remedy for our unnecessary accumulation: The NE Seattle Tool Library!

I didn’t know what a tool library was until my wife enlightened me. It’s a common place where people donate tools for public use. Not just hammers and hand saws, but power tools and plumbing supplies and electrical equipment. A whole garage full of crafty goodness, plus a bike repair station and in house large equipment woodworking area. All for a yearly membership fee of $20!

It's like a free hardware store!
It’s like a free hardware store!

It’s based off of the premise of shared resources. Home improvement equipment can cost on the upwards of thousands of dollars. Not to mention the amount of space tools take up gathering dust when not being used. Let’s be honest, unless you’re a hard core manly-man who lives and breathes Home Depot, you might pull out a cordless drill twice a year to do an odd project. Or an emergency comes up and you run down to Ace Hardware for $400 worth of supplies that you may never use again. Very inefficient and wasteful!

Work on your bike at the bike station.
Work on your bike at the bike station.

Shelves of crafty items!

Plenty to choose from at the tool library…

If the community comes together and pools its resources, suddenly you have a plethora of equipment that can be checked out and returned with a common storage space. No more cluttered garage and unused items. Beyond just things to use, there are instruction classes and an information library. Everything you need to repair your sink, sand your deck, or build that brand new arcade cabinet you always wanted! Everyone wins!

This is a big push towards a shared resource economy. Another similar idea (and one that may be implemented at the tool library) is time banking, where people make agreements to share skills. A doctor trades 1 hour of medical service to a family for 1 hour of childcare. A plumber trades 1 hour of plumbing service to a carpenter for 1 hour of carpentry. The importance isn’t on profit but connection.

Ridesharing, couchsurfing, and community gardening are all ways that people across the U.S. are coming together to form closer, more sustainable relationships. It’s an extension of the commons… a public space that is a resource for the whole community and is taken care of by the whole community. A reverse on the trend of resource hoarding; taking as much as you can as fast as you can before someone else can take it.

Come visit the NE Tool Library today!

Heather and I recognize that we have more space than any two people really need. In order to be responsible stewards for this space, we’ve decided to make our space productive. By converting our yard into a growing area, we can produce food not only for ourselves but friends and neighbors. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to be more sustainable and sharing oriented in our new home ownership!

If any of this sounds awesome, look around to see if there are groups and organizations nearby engaging in resource sharing. If not, start one! All it takes is a few people deciding to share with each other to get the idea off the ground.