Unsolicited Parenting Advice for Mr. Incredible

BobParrPlaying on the big screen this weekend is Incredibles 2, featuring the Parr family, and the word on the street (via the trailer and reviews) is Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, is staying home to care for the kids while mom saves the world. A super hero father turned stay-at-home parent holds potential to portray at-home fathers (and fathers in general) in a helpful way. It would be truly incredible to see super hero parents modeling roles that share the demands of work, childcare, and domesticity. But I am worried about Bob. Pop culture often uses fathers as a device to create laughs and to remind us to not to take dads too seriously.

Of course, I’ve not seen the movie yet and don’t fully know how Bob Parr will respond as a primary caregiver. But I do know what Bob will need if he is to succeed. As a stay-at-home father of four years, I’m confident he can rise to the occasion if given adequate support. So, Mr. Incredible, if you are willing to listen to advice from one father in the trenches to another, here you go:

Dear Bob,

You will have one of those moments where you wake and question what you have gotten yourself into. It’s natural. I panicked too when I found myself sinking after a few weeks as a stay-at-home father. But I am living proof that an inexperienced father can rise to the occasion and climb the childcare learning curve. You can do this too. Trust your capacity to grow into this role and trust your ability to nurture another human being. It’s there but it might take some time to discover it.

I admit there is a part of me that remains embarrassed to be a stay-at-home father. I never envisioned myself in this role. Caring for my children while remaining unemployed was a huge blow to my ego. Like many men in our society, I cannot fully shake traditional gender roles that equate a man’s value with their work outside the home. It’s deeply ingrained in us. No matter how hard I try to justify the care of my sons or assure myself I am doing what needs to be done, the truth is that I struggle with feelings of worthlessness. Perhaps you feel this way too. We are swimming in a sea of patriarchy.  But know there is no shame in what you are doing. Caring for your family is nothing to be ashamed about. There are plenty of other things in the world to be ashamed about but caring for your children should not be one of them. You are doing important work, lasting work. What could be more vital than nurturing your children? If you feel like crap about it, this is a symptom of our messed up society, not an indictment of your worth and value.

Now a few practical tips to help you survive:

  1.  Take deep breaths and walk out of the room when necessary. 
  2.  Find other dads who can support you.
  3. Find a hobby or creative outlet unrelated to parenting.
  4. Invest in a quality coffee maker.

I wish you the best of luck. Hang in there.

Sincerely, Billy Kilgore

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Why Kevin Hart Needs To Move His Parenting Views Into the 21st Century

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As I sat on the couch with my wife this past weekend watching Kevin Hart’s SNL monologue, I became increasingly uncomfortable. Inspired by the birth of his son, Hart shared amusing parenting stories and, in the process, revealed views steeped in rigid gender roles. Not only did his views belong to a past era, they were downright sexist.

I’m not a Hart hater. I have laughed at his stand-up routines and appreciate his self-deprecating style, but I cringed as I listened to him glorify parenting roles straight out of the 1950’s. When he declared mothers “no fun” and made the case for dads having the toughest job, always needing to be fun, I knew he had gone too far. And the buzz on social media seemed to agree.

I don’t turn to comedians like Hart to find model parents, nor do I expect him to offer thoughtful comedy bits at all times. He is a comedian, not a parenting guru. And I acknowledge his views are shared by many others who are not bothered. So why am I so bent out of shape? I know some will say it’s just comedy, let it slide. Part of me wants to let it go but I know it DOES matter because people like Hart who have the attention of millions of listeners hold the power to either reinforce or challenge harmful gender roles. We deserve better than his monologue.

As a stay-at-home dad, I felt belittled by his narrow-minded comments, which minimized the father’s role in child care. I can only imagine how mothers felt. And I feel a bit sad for  Hart that he sees gender roles through such a narrow lens. So, here is what I want to say to him:  maybe you are not the dad you described in your monologue, maybe it was just part of your act, but either way I think you can do better. You can start by using your privileged position to portray parenting roles in a more balanced and healthy and generous light that looks to the future and not the past. Maybe you already know this but many people don’t get it and when they hear you glorifying roles that are not in the best interest of families it gives them a pass to ignore the damage done. Remember, families are at their best when both parents are expected to participate in the endless details of raising a child.

Despite the antiquated views Hart spouted on SNL, I believe our culture is moving forward (slowly) towards a more balanced understanding of gender roles and how they relate to parenting responsibilities. We need to get people like Hart on board so we can continue in the right direction.

Oh, Kevin Hart, one more thing. I should note my wife is a lot more fun than me.

 

 

 

A Prayer For Parents Outnumbered By Small Children

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God of Endless Patience,

It’s 5:30 in the morning and my three-year-old is slinging yogurt and my infant cannot be pleased. I don’t know how I’m gonna make it through this day. I need your help, like NOW. So, please start by giving me a little bit of your patience.

Along with patience, I need your peace because I can feel the frustration building and the sun is not even up. My three-year-old son is now screaming while riding a breast feeding pillow like a horse and chasing our terrorized dog. Help me to not give him the epic reaction he seeks.

Also, I need your mercy because I got three hours of sleep last night (my wife got less) and the chances of me being a good parent today are slim. I just hope to get through the day without becoming an over-caffeinated monster. Remind me to take deep breaths when I feel the urge to yell.

I’m gonna need your wisdom too because I barely figured out how to manage the first child and now I am outnumbered. The truth is only YOU can prevent my house from turning into a circus. Don’t let it be like yesterday when my son took a used coffee filter from the trash and decorated the living room carpet with wet grounds.

And I REALLY need you to hurry that pot of coffee along because I’ve been awake for only thirty minutes and my oldest boy has already decorated the toilet seat with urine. If his mother sits in it, his life will be in jeopardy.

I place this day in YOUR hands.

Amen.

A Beach Guide for Pale Families

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Pasty people visiting the Florida panhandle is a recipe for a roasted epidermis. My pale family burns when we cross the state line. So why do we go? We want to swim in the ocean, play on the beach, and sleep in sand-filled hotel beds like any other family. We wanna make memories by dressing in all white for family photos so we look like creepy cult members.

If pale families are gonna survive the burning ball of light in the sky, we need a strategy or we’re gonna char like chicken on a kabob. Here are a few tips for your peaked pigmentation:

  1. Being a pale family at the beach means starting the day at sunrise to avoid the strongest UV rays. Of course, you should probably begin sunscreen application with small children before dawn. I suggest drinking a few sips of coffee before chasing your greased three-year-old around the hotel room. Go ahead and count this as cardiovascular exercise.
  2. Ideal beach time is between dawn and 9 a.m. The rest of the day I suggest watching Lego Batman in the hotel room and jumping on the beds until someone calls the front desk to complain. If there is an overcast, go to the beach; otherwise, take a trip to the grocery and do not return to beach until the sun sets.
  3. The perfect activity for pale families is crab hunting at night. You will find us walking at dusk in small groups with flashlights. What do we plan to do with caught crabs? Your guess is as good as mine.
  4. A healthy balance of time for a pale family is to spend 20% discussing dinner plans, 20% regretting not getting takeout, 20% at the beach, and 40% applying sunscreen.

Let’s be honest. Pale families belong in the mountains under a thick canopy of trees where risk of sunburn is minimal. We will never be the family on the beach basking in the blistering sun with their head tilted back as if they are having a spiritual experience. Sure, we enjoy looking at the beautiful ocean and building sandcastles but we get along with the sun like gummy worms left in a hot car.

FAQ: How To Survive A Three-year-old

“This is the best age,” said an elderly woman at the park, smiling at my three-year-old son. I exchanged a polite smile. But what I really wanted to say is “Are you kidding me? This creature is a monster.”

When my son turned three, bad behavior escalated to a miserable level. I was caught off guard because I bought into the myth of the “terrible twos” and thought I was doing well enduring toddlerhood until BAM! my son turned three and things got real. I found myself missing my tantrum-throwing two-year-old who was mostly cute and a source of laughter. I was stuck with a threenager (now I fully understand why this term is used) and wished to thump on the forehead those who claimed two was the the worst age. They were full of it.

If you are like me, you will need help surviving this trying age. So, I’ve collected frequently-asked-questions and done my best to answer them as truthfully as possible. I hope they prove helpful. Remember, it’s not too late to consider adoption.

Q:  Why are three-year-olds so awful?

A:  Why is the grass green? The sky blue? I don’t know. I’m sure a children’s psychologist could offer an answer to why Mother Nature requires this developmental stage but all I can do is open your eyes to the fresh hell you are entering. Prepare yourself for chaos. A few weeks ago, I sat on my comfy couch reading the New York Times, sipping fresh coffee, engrossed in a story. In the middle of the article, a thirty-five pound force busted through the paper like a high school football player running through a banner. I jumped out of my skin. Coffee spilled on my lap. I uttered a unmentionable word. And you know what the lil’ jerk did. Laughed. He laughed at my scalded crotch. Despite my best efforts to deter this behavior, the kid does it to me every Sunday morning and laughs in my face. I don’t drink coffee while reading the newspaper anymore.

Q:  What motivates the three-year-old?

A:  A three-year-old has one goal: the decimation of your psychological well being. They are experts at pushing your limits until your mental health dangles by a thread and then, sensing weakness, press harder. In their gleeful eyes, you can see their calculations to undo you.

I typed on my laptop at the kitchen table. My son leaned against my shoulder trying different tactics to divert my attention. Banging on keyboard. Yelling. Sticking fingers in my mouth. When his efforts failed he dug in his nose and wiped the largest booger/snot rocket combo to come out of a little person’s nose across my computer screen. I looked at him startled. “How about that?” he said, giggling, proud of his handwork. The snot ran down the screen and forced me to stop and clean it. Did he get my attention? Yes, he did.

Q:  How bad can it get?

A:  The month my son turned three his ability to listen shut off and his goal to undermine my sanity rose to the top of his toddler bucket list, right above visiting LegoLand. Damn kid doesn’t hear a word coming out of my mouth unless it involves gummi worms, monster trucks, or watching Paw Patrol. Typical toddler behaviors like screaming, kicking, and throwing escalate but I believe the psychological warfare waged by three-year-olds is an act of evil.

The most effective tactic of the three-year-old is taking a simple activity/interaction and making it as difficult as possible. For instance, exiting the car so we don’t miss our doctor’s appointment turns into a ten minute negotiation/wrestling match. Here is my son’s latest trick:  he will beg forever to do something like go outside or to the playground and as soon as I give in and fully prepare us for agreed upon activity he will reverse his decision, refusing to participate. It sounds benign, but when a child does it 300 hundred times a day it qualifies as torture.

Q:  What to do if you snap?

A:  Throw them in the woods.

Q:  Is it possible to survive them?

A:  Yes. It is possible but you will need to learn coping skills. Here are a few of mine:  king size Kit-Kats, Cokes, Cajun Filet Chicken Biscuits, and potato wedges from the grocery deli.

This age sucks. But I’m trying to keep in mind it is a phase like all other phases of a child’s development. It shall pass. Maybe not as soon as I would like but it will pass. It always does. A veteran parent once told me, “if he is still acting like this when he is sixteen let me know and we’ll take him to a psychologist, otherwise just let it be.”

So, my only advice is laugh when you get the chance. Take breaks. Laugh at the absurdity of it all. Take more breaks. Laugh so you don’t toss your child in the woods.

Thanks For The Unsolicited Parenting Advice, Seriously

Thank you for the advice. You have obviously picked me out as a parent in need of caregiving tips. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy, demanding cashier job to offer me parenting wisdom. I know you didn’t have to do this. I expected to pass unnoticed throughout the 15 items or less line but you took the time to inquire about my parenting abilities. Thank you.

Your questioning moved beyond the surface level, beyond “how are you today” and “how old is he” to real talk. I knew from the look in your eye I was going to get more from you than I asked for. You are clearly a generous person.

“Here is my best advice for you,” you said, unprompted. Somehow you knew I was looking for a wise soul to drop parenting insights on me. My lucky day. There are so few people willing to speak to complete strangers about childrearing practices. But you stepped up to the plate. And you delivered. You payed it forward.

I was distracted trying to keep my two-year-old son from doing a nosedive from the shopping cart, while flipping through my keyring for my Kroger card, but you intuited what I needed, advice on swim lessons. “Start them early,” you said, “get them in the water now so they will not be scared later.” You proceeded to go on a lengthy lecture, including your experience in the water with children. It was TED Talk caliber. I kept waiting for a screen to drop from the ceiling and an elaborate slide presentation. You were that convincing.

Despite the fact my child already attended multiple swim lessons last summer, I did not interrupt you because you were so eloquent. Perhaps, insightful is a better word. You dug deep into your mastery and helped me to better understand the psychology of small children and swimming pools. Your analysis of the relationship between toddlers and water explained things in a way that, finally, made sense. Again, thank you.

I should note that I couldn’t help but notice the antsy customers lining up behind me as you shared your wisdom. Yet, you put them aside and focused on what really mattered: giving swimming advice to a parent who already suffered through a water gurgling nightmare at the local YMCA. Despite the people behind me fidgeting and clearing their throats, you maintained eye contact. YOU put your job on the line to help a parent. Where are all the wise elders like you in the world? The committed souls who choose to step forward and give unsolicited parenting advice in difficult circumstances. We need more people like you.

When I got home I shared our exchange with my wife at the dinner table. She too gained from your knowledge. She too realized your genius. We are now considering switching grocery stores. Once again, thank you.

Here Is What This Dad Learned Marching with His Son Last Saturday

Last Saturday, resisting the urge to remain in my warm bed, I attended the Women’s March in Nashville. Along with my wife, toddler, and mother-in-law, I gathered with thousands of Nashvillians marching through the streets, waving signs, chanting, cheering. I marched not because I am a model citizen; rather, a tiny voice inside me said either get your ass out of bed or stop complaining about the election results.

Initially, I felt uncomfortable in the the large, diverse crowd (an introvert’s nightmare) but the vibrating energy was contagious and reminded me why I was there in the first place–my son. I want him to learn to appreciate women and treat them as equals. I want him to witness strong, committed women in action. I want him to do a better job of treating women with respect than I did as a boy.

Marching through the streets not only felt good it also opened my eyes. Here is what this daddy learned at the Women’s March:

We need to trust women. I know this is not an earth shattering insight, but we really suck at it, especially when it comes to decisions related to a woman’s body. Reproductive issues are complicated and involve varied circumstances, so let’s not pretend we know what is best for a woman in every situation. We live in a nation that prides itself on giving people choices; therefore, I don’t understand why we have such a hard time allowing women to decide what is in their best interests regarding health care. At the end of the day, women deserve the right to make the final decision about what will be done or not done to their body. It’s THEIR body. So, back off and let their conscience guide them.

Our children deserve better. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or Independent or apolitical, I hope we can agree the lack of decency this past year was disturbing. I’m bothered by the barrage of name calling, mocking, shaming, and bullying our kids witnessed from adults. Our sense of decency swirled down the toilet bowl. Now, parents are navigating through a hostile climate where hate groups feel comfortable crawling out of their dark corners, spewing their warped ideology. It would be foolish to pretend our children do not hear them. If we don’t reject hateful behavior, then what does that say about us as parents?

We need each other. The Women’s March reminded me how much parents need each other to get through the next four years. It will be so easy to wallow in cynicism, isolate ourselves, and quit caring about what our children are absorbing. But if we make an effort to stay connected we can lean on one another and share our collective energy to keep spirits high. Resisting the hatred, bigotry, and ignorance is going to require a community of like-minded people who share the burden. If I don’t find it, I will buckle under my despair. I’m reaching out. Are you with me?

Oh, on a lighter note, below is my favorite sign from Saturday’s march.

What I Need To Say To My Dog Following The Birth Of My Son

People often talk about second children receiving less attention than first children, but in my family our first child is more neglected than our second. Our first child, a fluffy thirty-pound Sheltie mix, arrived in our home five years ago. She became our precious pup and was treated like canine royalty. We bought her premium bones, organic treats, and chewable toothbrushes. We took her to the dog park several times a week. She went on doggie playdates and attended doggy easter egg hunts. (I’m fully aware of how crazy that last one sounds.)

Our spoiled pooch slept in our bed, laid with us on the couch, and received endless belly rubs. But then life changed. A whopping ten pound baby boy entered our lives and our first child was bumped off her throne. Now, the treats are limited, dog park trips rare, and belly rubs have decreased. Our family dog went from the center of our world to the periphery. It’s not that we love her any less; she will always be our first baby.

I feel guilty for the lack of attention we give her, but I don’t know of anything we can do to makes amends for the radical changes. All I know to do is to apologize. So, here are a few regrets I should express to her after the birth of her brother. I hope she will forgive me.

5. For starters, I’m sorry. I know you didn’t see this coming. You probably thought you would always be the center of our attention. Maybe I should have showed you Lady and the Tramp. This is a natural change in the life of a family. Regardless, you will always be our first child, even though we just can’t afford to buy you fancy dog bones from the boutique dog shop anymore. I hope you will understand.

4. I know you have been neglected the last two and a half years. Your ball tosses and walks around the neighborhood have decreased. You get less toys. Oh, and I’m deeply ashamed of the time we forgot to let you outside for twelve hours and you got a bladder infection. I feel terrible about that. To be fair, your brother was a month old and I was so sleep deprived I couldn’t remember my name, much less your bathroom schedule. I know there are no excuses. Sorry.

3. I appreciate you practicing non-violent resistance in the face of your brother’s aggression. I know this takes the patience of a saint and you have proven you are a flexible pup. In the face of hostile hair pulling and eye gouging, you don’t even growl. Intuitively, you seem to understand this smelly ball of flesh is your sibling and important to us. This is pretty amazing. Much gratitude.

2. Thanks for the cute photo-ops with the the baby. They are appreciated and your cooperation does not go unrecognized. Resting your head on our son’s back was a nice touch. I know many of the shots were demeaning, so thanks for begin a good sport. Your participation goes a long way towards good family moral. If I can remember, I will get you a juicy bone next time I’m out, but let’s be honest. I will probably forget. I can barely remember to restock the diaper bag with wipes before I leave the house.

1. Most importantly, thanks for welcoming your brother (my son) into the family and making him feel welcome. You didn’t have to do that. Actually, you probably did. Living with a toddler is still better than the Humane Society. Here is the best I can do: I promise you shelter, food, and (inconsistent) belly rubs.

Searching for the Hatchimal, This Year’s “It” Toy

I stare at my laptop screen watching a wide eyed, blonde haired girl cup a spotted egg in her hands. She tilts the large egg and it sneezes, burps, and hiccups. Waving it through the air, it squeals and releases a dizzying noise. Yellow lights flash inside the shell. She taps on it and the creature inside taps back causing her smile to stretch further. The lights flash red and blue and finally rainbow to signal the creature is ready to hatch. I lean closer to my laptop.

She rubs and rubs and rubs the egg bottom until a beak pecks through the shell in a circle, allowing her to remove the top half. Large, round eyes appear attached to a furry bird-like creature with flippers for wings. With a stroke of its head, the turquoise and pink bird announces “I love you.” My skeptical, adult heart fills with giddiness, which translates into overwhelming desire. I want a Hatchimal. For my son, of course.

I search online for nearby toy stores and the next day strap my son in the carseat and drive twenty minutes across Nashville to a Toys “R” Us. Traveling on the highway, I second guess my decision. Since the birth of my son, two and half years ago, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to avoid showering him with excessive toys; instead, using our money towards visiting children’s museums, zoos, and parks. But now I find my commitment to avoiding the holiday toy onslaught being tested. I don’t want to contribute to the hyper-consumerism of the season, but I also want my son to experience the same excitement I did opening presents as a child. I want the magic of the season to register in his eyes.

Inside the fluorescent light filled toy warehouse, I push the shopping cart, my son’s legs dangling through the seat holes. We stroll up and down the aisles stuffed with colored plastic. Parents and grandparents pass by me debating colors and sizes. Around every corner an automated toy roars or gives orders or sings. My toddler, wiggling in the wobbly shopping cart, reaches for everything and transforms into a shelf emptying monster. It feels like I have entered the center of the holiday frenzy.

“Hello, can I help you,” says a middle aged woman with fluffy grey hair, standing in a blue apron handing out store credit card flyers. “Do you have a Hatchimal,” I ask, hoping for directions to expedite our visit. “I wish,” she says, “I wish we had thousands.” Standing in the middle of the aisle, I stare at the woman with a dumb look. She continues, “The last time we had them was on Sunday and people camped out in the rain, a hundred or so, and bought all sixty when we opened.” “Really?” “Sorry, we might get more but we don’t know when. Best thing to do is call ahead.” I thank her and push the cart down the bicycle aisle. It occurs to me in that moment I might be the only parent on the face of the earth unaware of the Hatchimal shortage.

After a half hour of stressful wandering and children screaming, I pry an excavator from my son’s fingers and promise to bring him back just so we could leave. In the parking lot, as I strap him into the car seat, I ask, “Did you like the toy store?” “YES,” he says, pumping his arms with the same enthusiasm he displays when eating french fries.

Driving away I picture people camping on the gigantic toy store’s sidewalks, waiting in line for a Hatchimal. On our way to the next stop, the robot bird lingers in my mind, I turn on the radio but I cannot keep myself from thinking about the Hatchimal and me…I mean my toddler playing with it on Christmas morning.

I pull open the double doors of a small toy store tucked into a strip mall next to a Barnes and Noble. Wooden floors. Hand painted columns. Shoulder high shelves holding well-made toys along with smiling employees pleasantly chatting with one another. Holding my son’s hand, I approach a table near the cash register where two women wearing red aprons gift wrap toys in bright red wrapping paper.

“Are you wrapping a Hatchimal?” I ask. “I wish,” one of them says, echoing the employee at the large store. She glances up for a second before resuming her wrapping duties. “Did you have any at all?” “Yes, we got a small order but they sold out the first day. You can’t predict these things. It will be January before we get anymore.” I feel awkward asking for a Hatchimal in this store; it is like ordering a hamburger in a four star restaurant. “I’m sorry,” she continues, “as soon as I placed our order they were being sold on Amazon well over retail price.” I nod and thank her and my son yanks my arm towards the train table.

I reminisce over classic toys on the shelves, while my son handles trains, eyes lighting with excitement and tiny lips making sound effects as he connects one wooden car after another. All of his attention focuses on the colorful trains in his small hands. Watching him play, his imagination and sesnse of wonder send a warm sensation rushing through my chest. His care-free play is pure and beautiful. Not wanting to rush him and appreciating the calm environment, I let him connect trains for half an hour before leading him towards the door, waving goodbye to the smiling women in red aprons.

On the way home, moving slowly with the flow of congested Nashville traffic, I recall Christmas mornings from my childhood. My middle class parents went out of their way to create a spectacle for myself and sister. We awoke on Christmas morning to toys spread across the furniture and overflowing stockings. Rushing into the living room sent excitement through my scrawny body and the heap of toys felt like a dream come true. I spent the day constructing race tracks and model rockets and playing video games. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles visited to admire the loot we collected and I was happy to offer a tour of the goods. I was undeniably spoiled. I look up and glance in the rearview mirror at my son, spinning the wheels of a Matchbox car with his tiny fingers, and my heart sinks at the thought of him not opening a Hatchimal on Christmas day.

At home, I search online for the popular toy. I discover a Hatchimal online costs anywhere between two to three hundred dollars, nearly five times their retail price. On the company’s website a note is posted to temper expectations, making clear the overwhelming demand has created a shortage that cannot be overcome this month. The note offers a dose of reality that crushes any delusional hope inside me. In light of this newfound information, my chances of purchasing a Hatchimal seem non-existent, yet the rest of the day the fuzzy creature refuses to slip out of my mind. I feel embarrassed for falling this far down the Hatchimal frenzy hole.

Later in the evening, on the couch, I ask my wife, “Do you know what a Hatchimal is?” “A what,” she says. “A Hatchimal, it’s the popular toy right now.” “I don’t think I care.” “You will if you see the video.” I interrupt her television show to make her watch. “That thing is silly,” she says after watching. “What?” “Yeah, I can tell you are obsessed with it too.” “Picture our son opening it on Christmas morning, he would love it.” She grins. “This is not about him, it’s about you.” I shake my head. She continues, “I know you, I can see your gift giving obsession coming out.” I scrunch my face denying the claim. She warns me not to hide a box of Hatchimals in the house.

Later, lying in bed, staring at the dim ceiling, my wife’s words stick in my brain. This is not about him, it’s about you. As an adult, I’ve often swung from one end of the holiday gift giving spectrum to the other, either indulging in the consumerism or becoming overly critical of it. Wallowing in it or scoffing at the gross materialism. Part of me loves to give gifts because I get a kick out of it and there is also a part of me disturbed by the mindless consumption of stuff we will toss out or dump at the thrift store by the end of next year. This unbalanced way of life and its impact on the rest of the world leaves me feeling guilty.

But the part that bothers me most is the reality that I’ve spent my life relying on things, material possessions, to feel good about myself. To name a few: toys, collectibles, cars, books. The list could go on but I dont’ feel like naming them all. And I don’t pretend my dysfunction is unique, it is probably the norm in our “throw away culture” that encourages consumption of goods at every turn. In this regard, I am not a special snowflake but I am reckoning this holdiay season with my own materialism. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I can’t push it into a dark corner. I’ve spent my three decades on this earth shoving things into the void in my soul thinking it would make me feel better but it only left me empty, searching for something substantial.

After a restless night, my Hatchimal obsession fades but on the days leading to Christmas, out of curiosity, I keep my eye on Hatchimal prices and watch as sellers lose their nerve. The prices drop signficanltly. Three days before Christmas, you can purchase a Hatchimal for about a hundred dollars on Ebay. My fingers are eager to click the Buy It Now button and somehow justify the order to my wife. I try to rationalize paying a hundred dollars for the spotted egg, but something inside me does not budge, probably my commitment to paying our mortgage. I shut the laptop screen.

Looking back, my childhood toys are long gone, most of them discarded, probably piled in a landfill somewhere unknown. I do not long for them now; rather, I cherish memories of eating sausage balls with cousins, studying the Advent calendar with my sister, and putting together puzzles with parents freed from work responsibilities. At age thirty-six, these are the moments that stick with me.

I’m making peace with the reality I will not get my hands on a Hatchimal this Christmas. I’m okay with it. I don’t need to pay a small fortune for a programmed creature in an egg to create a sense of wonder in my son. He’s already got it.

Forget Hatchimals, Here Is What Your Kid Really Needs For Christmas

I would love to give my son a Hatchimal for Christmas and watch his eyes light up as the furry creature hatches, waddles and squeals. To be honest, I want this season’s most popular toy too. The damn thing is so adorable. It’s large, flashing eyes and lil’ flipper wings are irresistable. Don’t ask me to admit how many times I watched the demonstration video on the company’s website. It’s pathetic.

In a perfect world, every child who wants a Hatchimal would receive one wrapped under the tree. But the world is full of jerks who snatch them off the shelf and resale them online for ridiculous prices. Unless a Christmas miracle occurs, like someone magically appearing on my doorstep with a free Hatchimal, my son will not get one Christmas morning, along with a lot of other kids. At first, I felt like crap because I can’t purchase the robot bird, nor can I create a Christmas present spectacle for my son this year. We are a one income family (my wife works for a non-profit) and I stay home to provide childcare. Our tight budget does not make room to buy a mountain of toys.

While I cannot purchase him the “it” toy, my family’s simple Christmas celebration this month has opened my eyes to the vast difference between what I want for my child and what he needs. Just because I cannot provide a avalanche of plastic toys doesn’t mean I can’t give him what he needs most, my attention and time, which are richer than a piece of plastic, more meaningful than a programmed penguin, and more likely to be remembered when he is my age and his toys are buried somewhere in a landfill.

For all the parents out there who are struggling with the expectations and pressure of the Christmas toy onslaught, here are three things you can offer your child that don’t require a trip to the toy store:

  1. Tell your child a story. It might seem obvious to suggest sharing a story, but how often do we rush through the holidays without pausing to tell a personal story to your child. Tell them about your childhood Christmas experiences or share with them a family story from another generation. Stories go a long way in shaping our children’s identities and offer a dose of family history. It doesn’t need to be an epic tale; recall a memory from a Christmas morning that is meaningful to you. Christmas ornaments are great prompts for story sharing.
  2. Create a family tradition. Common traditions like decorating a tree and baking cookies are great but what if you created a new tradition to suit your family. When I was a child my family worked large puzzles together, the type with hundred of pieces and took at least a day to put together. I can still remember dangling my feet at the table where we assembled the Christmas scenes. I nibbled on sausage balls and studied my grandmother’s focused face. This year my wife and I added a gingerbread house to our repertoire. And we always watch The Sound of Music together and sing-along.
  3.  Encourage an act of generosity. The year my son was born my wife adopted an elephant living in an animal sanctuary. Every year she donates money to support the elephant, which is endangered due to poaching, and talks with my son about why they are helping the animal. She reads him updates on the animal’s growth and progress. Of course, there are simpler things you can do that cost no money. The key is the spirit behind the action and the commitment to thinking about someone else this time of year.

So, take a deep breath when you feel the pressure of the season, and know the irrational  expectations are mostly dictated by people eager to get your money and don’t care about your kids’s actual needs. It’s easier said than done, but I”m going to try this season to offer my child the things that make the season truly meaningful and know that will be enough. Okay, time to take a deep breath.