Straight Talk From The Smart Set

Here is one of my favorite conversations with one of my favorite kids. The names of those involved have been changed in order to protect the guilty…

My kids and I were hanging out with one of our little buddies. Let’s call him Ulysses. We’re at our house playing. Ulysses’ parents are not with us. Out of the blue, Ulysses says to me, as if he is about to unravel the truth about one of the world’s great wonders to me, thrilled that he possesses this wondrous knowledge:

“Hey Cory, you know what? I have to tell you something!”

“Yes, Ulysses, what is it?” I said.

“Cory!”

“Yes.”

“My parents… My parents…” he paused for dramatic effect.

“Yes?” I said.

“BOTH of my parents PICK THEIR NOSE!” he proclaimed proudly.

“Ulysses,” I said, looking him in the eye with great respect for the deeper bond that was just forged between us, “on behalf of both of your parents and myself, I want to thank you for sharing that with me.”

As usual, this incident reminded me of several insights that we tend to forget as adults, particularly in our interactions with other adults. The first is that honesty is cathartic, and kids are far, far more honest than adults. Sure, I know that kids will often exaggerate or lie to cover up mistakes they’ve made or massive gaps in their knowledge. Adults do that too. But kids also really, really want to share personal and private bits of information — you know, the things we try to hide as adults.

Imagine for a moment how much easier your emotional life would be if, instead of hiding your less impressive moments in life, your questionable thoughts, and your emotional baggage, storing it up inside, you just shared it immediately with everybody as you experienced it. If you didn’t fear the consequences of other adults’ reactions, and the thoughts they’d form about you, you’d probably do just that — share them and get them out there, then move onto the next feeling, thought or event in your life. So for one, I am greatful that kids I know feel comfortable sharing information with me — it means they trust I’ll love them anyway.

Ulysses’ mom is one of the few adults I know who often shares whatever is on her mind, even if it does not always paint the most pristinely perfect picture of her — and it’s one of my favorite things about her. It’s like a breath of fresh air in the adult world. Kids do this a lot more than adults.

And on that note, I will take the cue and state for the record, right here and now, that nosepicking is one of the great underrated simple pleasures in life. I tend to only engage in nosepicking in private — so, for example, my kids won’t tell you all about it when they come over to your house — but engage in it on occasion I do. It is less addictive than alcohol and it doesn’t make you drunk, it is easy to clean, it adversely affects nobody as long as you don’t pick so hard that your nose bleeds (my daughter Sidney sometimes does that), and frankly, it clears your nasal passageways for less money than a shot of saline solution. So I would like to invite all readers to pause for a moment to enjoy the enlightened mining of a fine booger nugget right now — but please do wash your hands before you touch the keyboard or mouse again.

The second insight is that kids love the simple joy of sharing experiences and knowledge with friends. When adults (particularly men) share knowledge, it is often in order to impress others with what we know (particularly when we’re sharing it with women). Sure, there’s an element of that with kids — ‘I know something that you don’t know, ain’t I cool?’ But there’s also this fantastic joy of sharing deep and meaningful information with each other. My 2 1/2 year old daughter Riley, for example, loves to share with me all sorts of information, just to make sure we’re on the same experiential page.

“Daddy?” Riley will say.

“Yes, Riley?”

“The man is driving the orange tractor!” Riley will say.

“He is?” I’ll say.

“Yes Daddy, look, the man is driving the orange tractor!”

“He is! That looks really fun,” I’ll say.

Riley will pause to think about this for a moment, then say:

“Daddy?” (She always waits for my response to make sure I’m listening. If I don’t respond, she will repeat: “Daddy?”)

“Yes, baby.”

“That looks really fun for the man to drive the orange tractor.”

And so she has incorporated my thoughts on the subject into her thoughts on the subject, we have shared information, and we are closer. She’s like a wonderful, engaged color commentator on life combined with a very, very active listener. It’s the best of both worlds — giving and receiving in a conversation — and because of this, I love talking to Riley about anything.

And in this way she inspires me to try to be a better person. I try to be like Riley now when I talk to other people, kids or adults. Somebody who really gives and really listens in a conversation. It’s hard for me — and most adults — to remember to be that way. It’s easy for Riley.

Boy do I love her.

Until next time,

Cory

Conflicted Alohas

http://www.corycullinan.com/Images/TheFamily.jpg

32,000 feet. I’m on a plane headed for Hawaii for the first time since my honeymoon twelve years ago. No aisle seat. No window seat. Crammed between a guy from Milwaukee and the girl I started dating 17 years ago. Nothing on the agenda, no responsibilities, pure freedom. The definition of heaven, right? Yeah baby. Yet here’s the truth…

I’m nervous and conflicted about this trip. I had trouble sleeping the night before leaving. I didn’t fall asleep until after 3 AM, worrying about whether going on this trip was the right decision for my two little girls. My wife and I cried a bit before we left for the airport. Okay, fine, I almost cried, and she cried a lot. Such a girl. (I included that sentence as a means of blatant pandering to chauvinists who feel that any man who writes a blog called Scenes From Fatherhood is a pansy. I hope, but doubt, it worked. Anybody who reads this blog will realize that I am, in fact, a fully committed pansy.) And I am actually wondering whether I will be able to figure out what to do with myself for five days without my kids. Seriously, I am wondering whether this is really a good use of my time, and whether I will feel like a truly good person leaving my kids for five days.

What the hell happened to the guy who used to cruise from land to land with brazen confidence and uncontained personal ambition? The answer is very, very simple: I created the two greatest things I ever could — Sidney Grace (age 4) and Riley Max (age 2) — and now, on my way to supposed paradise, I am having trouble even imagining what purpose I could possibly have except for assisting, teaching and learning from them as they embark on their action/adventure superhero lives. What if I miss a key moment in their life? What things that don’t involve children am I even interested in anymore? What do I do with time on my own? What is my purpose or value without them? Holy shit, I’ve gotten… old.

It is the first time in 4 1/2 years that my wife and I are going somewhere, together, without our kids. I have never been apart from my kids for more than 48 hours. I have worn this as a badge of honor, arrogantly proclaiming it to others as if it makes me the coolest dude in the universe. Instead, I suddenly realize it’s made me too dependent on them. Now Janette and I are leaving them with a water bowl and seven pizzas on the floor of the kitchen, and high tailing it to Oahu for five days. (Okay, fine, their grandparents are gonna be with ‘em too.)

So it occurred to me that right here, right now, crammed between Milwaukee and my Original Baby Doll — who, incidentally, is still all that, and I will strive to remind her of that on this trip — this is the perfect time to finally start writing Scenes From Fatherhood, the book / blog / sissy boy observations and musings I have been meaning to write for two years. Several moms who spend time with me with my kids have suggested I write something like this. In fact, several have suggested I teach a class on it — a fathering class. “I’d sign my husband up,” more than one mom has told me. Oh sure, I tell them — like my goal in life is to become known as the World’s Biggest Asshole to all the fathers in my neighborhood.

But upon reflection over the last several years of my life, particularly after the birth of my second child, I don’t think most women should choose a man quite like I’ve been over the last few years as a husband and father. I think they should aim for someone in between me and the Traditional Man. So perhaps as a few Traditional Dads review their lives and increase the priority they place on their kids, attempting to create a more even balance between their work and family life, I will attempt to balance my life out as well, and get back to one where I am both a devoted family man and a satisfied and successful Traditional Working Man as well. Well, maybe not a true 9 to 5 Traditional Working Man — I’m just not really cut out that way — but at least a man whose ambition stretches beyond the vision of his children. I certainly used to be a man fueled by Big Dreams Of Grandeur and Glory.

There was a time when I was an up and coming composer writing and producing cool music for albums, documentaries and a few TV shows and movies. And there was a time when I was a popular and successful high school music teacher, soccer coach and arts department head, devoting long hours to a calling I loved. Further back than that, there was a time when I was the guy everybody thought was gonna take the world by storm with my energy and ambition.

All of those things seemed of trifling and selfish importance after the birth of the great warrior princess Sidney Grace Cullinan on September 21, 2002. I fell so in love with that girl, and found that looking after my kids was so natural and enjoyable to me, that my primary identity instantly became Superdad. Coincidentally, my wife’s career started skyrocketing at the time — after all, it takes a superhero to birth a superhero — and she was spending a fair amount of time working. It seemed wrong to have her spending her personal time on family business chores rather than playing with her kids, and it also seemed wrong for me to continue to work long hours on a teaching job I loved but that didn’t pull in nearly the dollars per hour my wife’s job made.

Also, my superhero wife is legally blind and doesn’t drive — you try being legally blind, getting an advanced degree from Stanford, becoming Director of Content Design for a major corporate training company, and being a great mom whose kids adore her who even cooks a few meals for dinner each week, and you’ll understand why I am one smart dude for snaggin’ this kick ass cutie from the ranks of The Unhitched — so by default I am the only member of the family who can drive kids to doctor appointments or go pick up the groceries.

And here’s what happened, in retrospect: Over the last few years, in my everyday attempts to be a great dad and husband, I lost sight a bit of my own personal Big Picture. I made myself too one-dimensional, a bit too dependent on the success of my three girls for my own happiness, spending way too few hours a week on my own career to feel totally fulfilled, occasionally wondering what happened to the guy who used to accomplish big things in music and teaching, but finding no solution to this dilemma in our overbooked San Francisco Bay Area schedule.

So after spending much of the past few years focusing almost exclusively on my family responsibilities, I’ve readjusted my focus. We shook things up and built our dream home in a new state — Colorado — leaving behind the place and most of the people with whom I’ve spent the previous 36 years of my life. I’m working full time again, having launched a new career as Doctor Noize that focuses my ambition and energy and allows me to combine my love of parenting, music, writing, creativity, and teaching. And I find myself more motivated to make money than I ever have been before, as if I want to make up for lost time over the past few years or something. For more on Doctor Noize, visit www.doctornoize.com or Doctor Noize’s Blah Blah Blog….

This blog — Scenes From Fatherhood — will be filled primarily with scenes from my adventures as a parent. It will reveal the Great Things discovered by my children and their little friends on their action/adventure superhero journeys. It will also reveal the Great Reminders that our kids offer to the Obsolete Children in their lives (Dr. Seuss’s great nomenclature for adults), giving us a chance to relearn them. It will occasionally include philosophical meanderings like today’s premier installment. And it will eventually include some of the less impressive moments I have represented and encountered, both as a parent and as a child who observed his own parents dealing with unwinnable situations.

But for now, I will close with this, my first alleged Pearl Of Wisdom: My kids, and the kids I’ve had the privilege of teaching and playing with, are the best thing that ever happened to me since my own childhood and my wife chose me as her man. Yours are too. And they are generous enough of spirit, every single day, to let us Obsoleters join in and relive that state of childhood again. Don’t miss out on it.

Here is the main thing I have learned about kids of any age, from infants to the most sullen and zit-infected high school boy I ever taught: They see through the bullshit of social artifice in adults. They see through it much better than adults do. Here’s the proof: It is very, very easy to become someone kids love and trust, and there is only one prerequisite for developing this trust and being someone kids flock to. It is not being funny. It is not being cool. It is not being rich. It is not being someone who spoils them with candy.

It is simply this: You must actually enjoy the privilege of spending time with them. If you don’t, they’ll sniff you out in a second and move on to those who’ll live in their world with them. Considering that we’re talking about people who can’t properly shop for their own groceries, assess their own emotional state of mind, and in some cases dispose of their own bodily waste, kids are shockingly efficient at quickly analyzing your true interest level in them and adjusting their priorities accordingly.

If you are in a place where spending time with your kids is a burden and a stress, rather than a gift, you should leave that place for wiser pastures. Adjust your life so that time spent with your kids is a blessing, not a curse. Conversely, if you’re in a place where actually not spending time with your kids is a burden and a stress (as in… “Shit! Now I have to accomplish some sort of project or emotional state that is in no way associated with my kids…”) then you should also leave that place for wiser pastures. I’ve been to both extremes, and I assure you, you’re not alone in the quest. Start today and good luck.

So with embarrassingly mixed feelings, I’m leavin’ for Hawaii. I have now finished my first Scene From Fatherhood, on my laptop computer on a plane to paradise, with several hours to go before we touch down. And I’m proud to say that I’m now gonna watch some in-flight infotainment I don’t give a shit about. (This is one of my new goals in life: Finding a little time each day to spend on things that add no measurable value to my life, things that are not a part of my goals and plans — just existing inconsequentially for several moments each day without thinking I should be doing something more useful with my time.)

And I’m loosening up a bit and trying to look forward to five days without my kids. I’m gonna baby my wife on this trip. She deserves it. And I look forward to seeing a few hot chicks in bikinis on the beach. Is that too much to ask? And after 4 1/2 years of watching my tongue, I’ve decided I’m going to swear a bit for the next five days. Fuck yeah. With apologies to my mother and my fine Mormon relatives… That feels good.

Until next week… Aloha.

Cory Cullinan