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The Unapologetic Geek

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11 Things I Learned in 2011 - Page 2

I can't complain; for the most part, 2011 has been a pretty good year. In the past, I've shied away from talking too much about what I've learned as a new parent, but today I'm going to delve straight into it. Over half of the lessons listed below have to do with parenting, but that's because, as a stay-at-home dad, parenting has been the dominating factor of my life ever since Tommy came along. With that in mind, here's what I've learned in the last twelve months:

We're Weird Parents

Kids lining up to be sanitized
Not even Purell can clean up the filthy thoughts of that kid on the right

Having already admitted that I'm a ludicrously paranoid parent, it might seem odd that my wife and I don't bathe our little guy in antiseptic gel five times a day. I happen to believe that children are supposed to be exposed to dirt and germs, that they need to build an immune system in order to cope with the grime-infested world out there. However, if you know any modern parents, you'll know that this makes me an abomination.

Every other 21st Century parent keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer in their pocket, purse, diaper bag, and car, not to mention the one you'll find in every single room of their house, sometimes installed as convenient wall dispensers like the place is a hospital. You might think I'm exaggerating, but I most emphatically assure you I am not. Everywhere I go, I see parents who spend five minutes scrubbing their children's hands, arms, and faces with the stuff like its sunscreen and we live on Mercury. They do this to their kids before and after they eat, several times while at the playground, anytime they happen to actually touch other human beings, and whenever one of them falls on the ground and gets a smudge of dirt on his or her cheek. When did germaphobia become a critical parenting tool? How do these parents think the human race survived as recently as ten years ago, when this stuff hadn't been invented yet?

It goes deeper than that, too; while I freak out when my kid gets sick, I don't automatically give him antibiotics every time he coughs, even though I'm crazy enough to think vaccines are essential and not part of some kind of Big Pharma conspiracy. It seems to me that, when the plague finally comes, my son is going to be the only person left whose immune system is strong enough to survive it. If you're reading this at the end of the world, I'm truly sorry, my son, for letting you be the one to witness the death of the human race alone. At least there's still an Internet.

There's Always a Missing, Abused, or Murdered Child in the News

Casey Anthony
I'm sorry for bringing this back up, but really, did this woman deserve wall-to-wall coverage for two months?

Being paranoid and having an overactive imagination, I spend a lot of time worrying about bad things that could happen to my child. One of the few things that can take my mind off of concerns that maybe I used too much bleach when he was an infant and that the fumes must have caused irreparable brain damage is politics. Politics, for me, is like a huge sporting event, with two sides beating the crap out of each other and keeping score, with a super bowl every four years when there's a presidential election. Readers of this blog know that I follow it pretty religiously and tend to get enthusiastic about who's winning and losing. Therefore, when I need a distraction, I sometimes turn on the news (yes, I still like to watch news on television; crazy, right?), often turning to the most biased and amusing political networks like Fox News or MSNBC.

But then, instead of talking about the conservative congressman who was recently caught spanking a naked homosexual athiest in his office (maybe it'll happen tomorrow), the newscasters spend hours and hours talking about the latest little boy who went missing after his parent fell down the stairs and nearly died or the trial of a parent who drowned her kids because she thought they were possessed by demons after she was accidentally poisoned with a hallucinogen in her well water. One of these stories will dominate the headlines for weeks at a time and then, when it finally runs its course, another story just like it will take its place. There's no shortage of missing, abused, or murdered kids out there (if they reported every single one with just a five minute blurb, they wouldn't have time to talk about anything else), but why do news networks think we need to be reminded of it every single day? If you're not a parent, you probably don't see what the big deal is, but these stories are intensely disturbing to anyone who has children of his or her own, especially if they're paranoid and imaginative.

I'm a Patient Parent

Swimming baby
"You've been in the water for three whole minutes already! What do you mean you can't do a sidestroke and tuck into an underwater roll while keeping a lit blowtorch above water? God, Baby, you're so slow!"

Sometimes, I think I lack the proper disposition to be a stay-at-home father, that my personality isn't compatable with good parenting, even though by all objective measures, I'm doing just fine. Then I hang out with other parents and feel better about myself, because there's no better way to realize that everybody in the world is nuts and somehow millions of children still manage to turn out okay.

A good example of this happened in the summer, when I started taking Tommy to swim lessons. The lessons ran every day for a mere two weeks, so I wasn't expecting him to be an olympic swimmer by the time it was over. Apparently, though, these tempered expectations, like my theories on hygiene mentioned above, make me something of an unusual specimin among modern childrearers. On the first day of swim lessons, there were eight parents there with their children. On the second day, there were only four, and on the third day, there was just me and one other parent. For the entirety of the second week of classes, I was the only parent still coming. I asked the instructor if this happened a lot, and she told me that no, it was pretty unusual that one parent (namely, me) actually stuck with it long enough for his child to make significant progress.

It was clear that what I possessed and the other parents seemed to lack was patience, that I wasn't freaking out that it takes time and dedication to teach your child something as complex and difficult as swimming. I'm sure that this phenomenon isn't common all over--I was taking my kid to classes in a pretty hoity-toity, spoiled rich part of town--but it's still disturbing to know that so many parents lack something as critical to good parenting as basic patience. On the other hand, it gives me some solace whenever I start to lose mine.

I'm a Hypochondriac

A tapeworm
And for some reason, watching House reruns doesn't help

I was in my living room one sunny afternoon when I started to feel a bit dizzy. As a diabetic, I thought that maybe my blood sugar was dropping, even though that didn't make sense as I had just eaten something with a fair amount of sugar in it. My second thought was that I was having a stroke. I went down a mental checklist: blood pressure, ear infection, sudden migraine, brain tumor, etc. It took at least thirty seconds before I contemplated anything that didn't involve my body failing me. It turns out I was dizzy because the ground was shaking, because I was experiencing an earthquake.

This helped highlight something I've realized recently; I'm a hypochondriac. I don't know if I'm just getting older or if it's the natural result of my father's untimely death and my own stunningly early diabetes diagnosis, but the fact remains that there's a dark part of my mind that is absolutely convinced I'm going to die any day now. I find myself looking up the symptoms of rust poisoning because I happen to notice a spot of rust on the metal door I sometimes hang my towel on, or I bring on an anxiety attack by wondering if anxiety can be a symptom of brain cancer. It's just silly, but I can't stop myself. Does that mean there's something wrong with me? Should I see a doctor?

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-e. magill 12/27/2011

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