No PARCC-ing Zone

I don’t believe myself to be much different than other parents in my wishes for my kids’ education.  I expect my kids to learn age-appropriate subject matter and grow their social skills.  Going to school is one facet of learning to be an autonomous, productive citizen.  We put a measured amount of trust in our schools that our kids are being nurtured in a respectful, safe environment.

Unfortunately, our state and federal governments are using all of this trust and blind assumption to make money for the wealthy; the wealthy that keeps them in office.  Yes, we’ve all grown up on tests.  We also rode bikes without helmets to the grocery store/gas station, drank water from a garden hose, took rides in the back of a pickup truck, hung out in smoke-filled bowling alleys, and came home from school to an empty house with no adult supervision for hours.  How many of those things do you let your kids do now?  Not many I would guess.  And why is that?  We know better now.  We know the possible negative outcome of these things.

Fortunately, we also know the outcome of high-stakes testing.

-These tests are currently only testing a narrowed curriculum (mostly Math and LA, some Science).  This deemphasizes the importance of other subjects in the class by way of instructional time limits.

-Teachers are forced to “teach to the test”.  Their career standing is at least partially tied to the results of the tests.  State and federal officials are pushing for a greater weight being put on the results for teacher accountability.  What incentive, outside of personal achievement,  do teachers have to teach anything else if their job doesn’t depend on it.  But if they lose their job, then what’s the point?

-The pressure put on those teachers is then projected onto the students.  Do not underestimate the perceptiveness of children.  If a teacher is stressed, they know it.

-Good teachers are leaving the profession.  A more narrowly-focused curriculum prevents creativity and discourages teachers from teaching outside the box of what is being tested.

So what do our kids get from taking these high-stakes tests?  Nothing positive.  The tests do not teach them age-appropriate subject matter.  They do not allow them to grow autonomously.  They get to become the number that the test says they scored.  School districts and real estate agents use the scores to portray the geographic placement of high property values.  These tests are used by our leaders to compare with other countries with many different educational philosophies and goals.  They will attempt to persuade us that we are falling (or have fallen) behind the leading countries.  If you believe that, how many sweatshops do we have in the United States that China uses to produce goods for their country’s economy?  We are NOT falling behind.

We send our kids to school to learn.  Testing is NOT learning.  Our teachers are constantly assessing their students.  They know where each one stands.   They don’t need a national test to tell them where each student needs more attention and where they need more challenge.  The teachers know this.  If our Governor or our Secretary of Education wants to know how our kids are doing in school, they should just ask a teacher.

Why Am I a Stay-At-Home-Dad?

It’s May of 2006. I’m gainfully employed, my wife has a great job with a global corporation, we have two great kids (ages 4 & 1), and life is good. And they all lived happily, ever after. Well, sort of.

There was something missing. Both of us worked the 9-5 workday. We were paying family members to care for our kids at our house. Wait…what? Paying someone to care for our kids? Why? So we can go on great vacations once or twice a year? Maybe. So we both feel like we’re productive citizens in our society? Possibly. Because society says that adults should be gainfully employed to have any self-worth? A little bit. We want someone else to be a primary care-giver to OUR kids? Stop.

Why did we have kids in the first place? It’s the natural order of life of course. But it’s also natural to be the ones to raise your kids. My wife and I decided that we wanted to fully embrace our role as parents. We were already very involved in our kids’ lives. We enrolled them in classes on the weekends and some in the evenings after work. We did most everything with them. We were just very into our kids. We loved being parents. That wasn’t enough. We looked at our finances and agreed that my wife’s salary was strong enough to keep our lifestyle (not lavish by any stretch of the imagination) essentially the same and that I would stay home with the kids. We weren’t even aware that it was a title (SAHD). We just knew that we wanted to do the best we knew how for our kids. Sure we might need to cut back on luxury things or big vacations. We wouldn’t be buying a new car anytime soon. We were ok with that.

So I did it. I gave 2 weeks notice and left my job. I traded business casual for T-shirts with spit-up stains. Granted, I already had those T-shirts with stains, but now I wore them all day. They were my uniform, my badges of honor. I now had 24/7 responsibility of what my kids ate, played, watched, and encountered. And I loved it.

I didn’t know any other dad doing this, though there are thousands doing it across the country. All of my friends and male relatives with kids played the traditional role of father. How would they accept my new role? I guess I didn’t think much about that. I didn’t think much about how society viewed my new role. I really had no idea what the biases were toward Dads that stayed home with their kids. What I did know, is that I wanted the very best for my kids. And for me and my wife, that meant one of us being with them at home.

Having a title never impressed me. That is, until I became a parent. It’s the most important and impressive title I’ll ever have. And I’ll have it until the day that I die. No one can take it away. I can’t be demoted or have the title removed. Whether I’m good at it or terrible, I will always have “parent” as my title. So I’d better not screw it up, right? But, of course, we all have our victories and defeats. We just try to have more victories than not and learn from our defeats.

Fast forward to today, 2014. We have added to our family. We now have 4 children: 2 girls (ages 12 & 5) and 2 boys (ages 9 & 3). Are my wife and I perfect? No. Are our kids perfect? Yes…. I mean no. But we’re doing it the way we want to do it. We’re not worrying about what society says the right way to do it is. We’re not concerned with others’ perceptions of our lifestyle. We know our kids. Our kids know us. We have quality time. We have quantity time. Our kids know that we are always there for them.

So, back to the question. Why am I a Stay-At-Home-Dad? The answer: I want to do the absolute best for my kids. That’s why we had them in the first place.

“Dad, you’re squishy”

He means well. He says it while giving me a genuinely loving hug. He says it with an honest smile. “Dad, you’re squishy,” my 9-year-old son says while hugging me and playing my belly like a Wurlitzer.

“I like hugging you Dad,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply with a prideful smile.

Then comes the qualifier. “You’re softer than Mom.”

My smile melts into a curled lip. Don’t get me wrong, I love every time any of my 4 kids want to hug me. The older they get, the fewer the hugs. When they’re babies and toddlers, there are hundreds of hugs per day. It’s one of their main modes of communication. Then pre-school starts and hugs become a “goodbye” and “hello” thing, with “good night” hugs to end each day. Into elementary school, hugs are still daily. But I often have to initiate the embrace. Middle school has proven to make the hugs even less frequent. They have become the more “situational” occasion. “Good job” on the band concert. “I’m proud of your report card”. The daily hugs are gone at this point. Sad, I know.

So when I still get hugs, I can’t be bothered by the “squishy” comments that come along with them. But I am. Getting caught up in the everyday activities of caring for my kids and running them everywhere, I’ve lost my ability to set aside “me” time. The time I do get, I use to decompress. Once I catch my breath and gather my senses, I then feel guilty that I didn’t use my time to exercise. So, I think I could wake up before everyone and run/exercise in the morning. Who am I kidding? I’m already waking up as early as I possibly can just to get up with the kids to feed them and make their lunches for school. What about when my wife comes home from work? CRAZY TIME! Homework, after-school activities, dinner, bath time, bed time. The day is over and here I am back to my decompress time. And I feel the guilt, again.

Sitting on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show or sports highlights, I look down at my “squishy” midsection. His voice rings through my head. “Dad, you’re squishy.” What’s the answer? I need to make time for myself. My wife has been supportive and offered to give me time. Who does she think she is, Father Time? When can I really get away? Our kids aren’t in an after-school program that I can just leave them for an extra 45 minutes at the end of the day so I can hit the club. I’ve already nixed getting up earlier in the morning to work out. There must be a compromise!

Hmmmm. Maybe if I sacrifice some of my “decompression” time to get to bed earlier, I COULD get up earlier in the morning to get a workout in. I do believe I remember in my younger, more athletic days that the healthier you are, the more energy you have. Maybe I won’t need as much decompression time. I’m going to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Kids! Say goodbye to your “squishy” dad! Soon, after hugs I’ll hear, “Dad, I like hugging Mom a little more because she’s softer than you.”

I’d be fine with that.