explorations of mindful fatherhood


Sick Day: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Good Pillow Fort (and TV and Star Wars II)

pillow fortSick days are sacred.  They’re about taking care of yourself, sitting on your butt, and doing whatever the hell you want. We had a sick day recently, and I recommitted to this idea, while getting the chance to reflect on my everyday (non-sick?) life.

You know your child is having a hard time sleeping when you roll over in the middle of the night to find him staring straight at you as he says “Hi Dad,” with absolute lucidity.  That’s what happened the other night when my son couldn’t sleep, plagued by terrible fits of coughing that thwarted his attempts at rest.  He eventually made it across the hallway into his parents’ bed, keeping us all marginally awake for most of the night.

Needless to say, he was a mess the next morning and had to take the day off of school. I opted to stay home with him so my wife could go to work, and after firing off a few work-related emails, I was free the rest of the day to relax and enjoy.  But at first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  I tend to be a “let’s get out of here” sort of dad.  On the days that my son and I have had together without his mom, we tend to go to the park, hike, visit museums, enjoy street fairs, that sort of thing.  I tend to be pretty active.  I’m not as good sitting at home coming up with activities.

That’s why this sick day posed a certain challenge for me.  What was I to do with my son for the day, stuck at home?  And here was the fear: We’d only watch TV.  I’m kind of a TV addict.  That’s one of the reasons why we got rid of cable recently.  And yet, without cable, there’s still hulu, amazon streaming, youtube, blu-rays, and a host of other non-cable media options.  When I’m kind of stuck, parenting-wise, I tend to rely on TV as my old fall-back.  We’re tired after dinner: How about an episode of AFV?  Groggy at breakfast: Why not watch an episode of Ninjago?  Mom’s on a work call: Did you see they’re streaming episodes of Ultraman on hulu?

So, a day stuck at home with a sick kid was just screaming out for non-stop television/movie time.  And what did I do?  I turned on the TV of course.  We had breakfast on the couch, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, but the whole time I was wracking my brain for things to do.  My son’s been learning chess…no, I’m crap at that.  He has reading to do….no, it seemed unreasonable to make him do homework while he’s sick.  We could do some math….no, for the same reason as the reading.

Then I realized the conundrum I was in. I truly believe that sick days are  sacred, and that in this age of achievement and ambition, our bodies sometimes put on the breaks.  When we get sick, I firmly believe that we need to take cues from our bodies and slow down.  So, on a sick day we’re supposed to sit around all day.  We’re supposed to do the things we want to do.  We’re supposed to put everything else down.  The tricky part was that I’m a little too quick to sit around watching TV on days when my family and I are healthy!  I tend to use TV to numb us out on a daily basis.  My sick-day anxiety was due to this push and pull: feeling the need to honor what my son wanted to do on his special sick day (TV) and fighting the laziness that I tend to embody daily (TV).  So what was the answer?  TV.

I had to prioritize the fact that it was his sick day, so we were going to do what he wanted to do in order to feel rested and rejuvenated.  I realized I couldn’t make up for my laziness on that day, of all days.  I would have to start embodying more conscientious ways of unwinding when he or I weren’t sick.  That way, when we’re truly sick or truly exhausted, television can be a special treat.

For that particular sick day, I just needed to be a little savvy and break up the day, because 8 hours of the tube wasn’t going to do anyone any good.  When AFV concluded, I suggested, “Hey, why don’t we build a pillow fort?”  Within a few minutes we had a fort of pillows and blankets scaffolding the couch.  Dad’s fat ass nearly pulled the thing down getting in, but it survived.  Then I suggested I read him a book inside the fort.  He said I could pick the book.  “Even the Hobbit?” I asked hopefully (I’ve been pushing Middle-earth on him for months).  He said yes!  So we cuddled up for nearly an hour under the almost-too-hot blankets, enjoying Bilbo’s unexpected gathering together.

And in the end, more TV.  When I asked him what he wanted to do next, it was to watch Star Wars.  Yes, there is one word that describes both my son and I: Nerds.  He settled on  Attack of the Clones, and I tried not to laugh too hard when Anakin and Padme frolicked in the meadows of Naboo.

In the end, we had a great time.  Sometimes it takes an sick a day to realize you need some rest, but it may also take a sick day to realize the ways in which you spend your everyday life.

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Go Ninjago!


I was at a Halloween party last month sitting among vampires and ninjas, when another father and I began discussing the TV habits of our kids.

“I watch, but I don’t watch, if you know what I mean,” he explained.  “I mean it’s on, my eyes are watching it, but I’m not really watching it.  My mind is somewhere else.”

I knew what he meant.  I found my son’s first TV interests kind of unbearable.  Let me be the first to admit that I was a TV junkie growing up, so TV was and is a big part of my life, for better or worse.  With the birth of my son, however, my wife and I are (or were) very careful about the type and duration of TV our son watches.  At first, we only allowed PBS and/or videos, but not a lot of commercial TV.  Because of this, his first real media loves were Blues Clues, Curious George, and Thomas the Tank Engine.  As a person who works with kids, I can appreciate the repetitive and sing-song nature of TV shows for younger kids, but it’s a bit mind-numbing for a man in his 30s.  He and I would watch them repetitively (and read the books time and again) to the point at which I’d become completely deadened to the whole experience.  For me, these shows became a sort of narcotic.  I would pop one in for my son, we’d set up on the couch, and I’d fall asleep before the theme song was over.

In spite of this, I knew every word to every Thomas song, and could recite just about every tank engine name (even the names of those pesky diesel engines).  When we’d play, I loved the trains and the tracks, and all that went with them, but the stories and show were a tough pill to swallow.  Those were some of the times that I’ve felt the most like an undead dad around my son, and I hated it.  Although I wanted to share in his full enthusiasm about the shows, I couldn’t get there.

In some ways, his later interests really saved me from becoming a drooling mess of a TV partner.  It was probably Star Wars that first really sparked my interest.  As a dad, there’s nothing quite like seeing your son reliving the same passion you once held as a young kid, but that’s the subject of another post.

His current love is Ninjago.  On the face of it, it seems like a terrible thing to love: it’s basically a TV show developed to sell ninja Lego sets to kids.  In most ways, I thought I’d hate it.  He started talking about it because the next door neighbor loved it.  I broke down and watched an episode with him, and that was all it took.  I was instantly enamored.

The show is set in the land of Ninjago where four ninja and their master are reclaiming the four golden weapons needed to overthrown the maniacal Lord Garmadon, who threatens the land with his dark forces of skeletons (season 1) and snakes (season 2).  The bulk of the shows are about a Vader-Luke type of conflict between Lord Garmadon and his son Lloyd Garmadon, who turns out to be ***SPOILER ALERT*** the Green Ninja, prophesied to restore peace to the land.

The storylines of the shows are actually incredible, with lots of action, twists, and funny dialogue.  My son loves it, and recites lines throughout the day, and I find myself doing the same.  For the first time, we actually like the same TV show!  It’s even come to the point of us DVRing all the new episodes and counting down episodes to the “final battle”, which was hottly anticipated in my house.

That’s what I love about TV, it’s the anticipation of new episodes, storylines, and character development.  Although my TV obsession comes with its own problems, I do love TV’s ever-evolving nature, which builds up a lot of anticipation.  That’s the element missing from all the mind-numbing shows for young kids.  They’re so formulaic, you know exactly what’s going to happen each time, and then end up watching the same things over and over.  So, now that my son’s into a good show, I find that I’ve found a new experience to share: TV anticipation!  It’s really woken me up, and I can be more alive with him and actually enjoy myself.  So, for all those fathers suffering through endless Barney or Wiggles episodes, there may be hope for you yet.

Go Ninja Go!