In late November, I’d decided one thing I wanted for Christmas. I wanted to start some form of exercise where I could fight something (or somebody). After reconciling that fighting with other people was perhaps a bit too much of a leap for someone accustomed to staring at a blue line, avoiding human contact at all costs, I settled on a cardio kickboxing gym in Jersey City.
A lot of this space has been devoted to talking about the dad process for my five year old, never stops talking, possibly “too much” personality, five year old daughter Olivia. Why not? She walks, she talks (did I mention it’s a lot?). There’s a lot of material to work through.
Jacob, now seven months old, still communicates only through crying, smiling, and laughing. Yesterday, he did say “babababababababa” to me for over an hour, which I can only deduce was a fascinating story about his day.
In both cases, I’ve had to consider that as official DeSantis Dad, I am likely going to be the most influential male figure in their lives. So what do I want to teach them about what it means to be a man, or to interact with men? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Men are sources of love and comfort
What I just typed is either blatantly obvious or somehow controversial. I think everybody should fight for what they believe in. I believe the world would be a much better place if fathers put more energy into loving and comforting their families.
I’ve put almost too much effort into building a secure base with Olivia. It’s to the point that even at age five, she expresses some embarrassment at my public love proclamations. For Jake, I made a conscious effort to from the very beginning be loving and comforting.
Kate was just away for a weekend, and we had several “snuggle parties” where I sat with the two little kids on my lap, hugging and just enjoying each others company. I think having a secure base of love and comfort from a father gives kids confidence and resilience.
Daddies are rough and tumble
Kids like a little bit of rough play, especially with their fathers, I’ve found. I’m physically about 1.5 times the size of Kate, and somewhat more resilient to being picked or punched inadvertently by a little kid. I’ve got a little more power for throwing a child up in the air.
Also honestly, there are few things that are better for my own mental health then a little bit of rough play with the kids. Just yesterday Jake got sheer joy out of trying to crawl over the top of me. If I could figure out how to package babies smiling and laughing as a mental health treatment I would.
Olivia has learned from a young age that other people have to respect her space. She tells us- “I need some space”. She tells the same to friends. Her most common complaint at school is typically about some a boy not respecting her personal space. She even made one cry by the tone and volume of her voice when he got too close too often.
I hope she keeps that boundary strong. The news and history tell us that men have not traditionally done a great job respecting other people’s personal space. I want to teach Jake to be a different kind of man, that there is strength in that respect
Boys do cry
I’m aware that accessing my own emotions is a challenge to this day. Years of personal life experience, which I cannot separate from the “boys don’t cry”, has created a lot of barriers for me.
I’ve decided against passing on to my two kids that somehow, this detachment is somehow what makes me “manly”. I don’t agree with that sentiment. When Jake cries, I don’t tell him “you’re ok”, a pretty typical response for a crying baby. I tell him “I know”.
We can’t communicate about what’s going on just yet, but I want to prepare to have the conversation where I acknowledge his feelings instead of trying to shove past them immediately. Maybe I can help him to have a different experience of being a man than me.
Farts are funny
One thing I will not allow Big Feminism to convince me of is that farts are not funny. Normal human flatulence is hilarious, and once you give in to that you have an endless, naturally occurring, sustainable sense of humor to draw upon.
Laughing at farts is what connects me to my ancestry, my people and all my forefathers. I want to pass down that connection to my own children, so that they can pass it down to theres. So that one day, when I’m very old, I can sit by the fire on a cold winter day and laugh at a fart with four generations of DeSantis folk.
We all have a dream.
At the DeSantis household, there are a lot of presents to open. Olivia turns five today, and we strain to make sure that her birthday doesn’t become a Christmas afterthought (or I guess, in this case, before-thought).
Yesterday, Olivia and I went to a birthday party in New York City. Before that, we went to gymnastics. Between all the travel and activities, we spent nearly the entire day together. Olivia has been, since she could form words, a constant talker. So a full day with her is like a month’s worth of conversations with your average friend.
The Danish language is wonderful when translated literally into English. A few personal favorites:
Danish: Pinsvin. English: Hedgehog, Literal English Translation: Pin pig
Danish: Moderkage. English: Placenta, Literal English Translation: Mother cake
But perhaps two of the best words in the Danish language are the ones used to represent their early childhood “education” system. From six months to three years old, kids go to “Vuggestue” or literally translated “cradle room”. After that they move on to “Børnehave” until age six, which is “kid garden” or the Kindergarten we’ve borrowed from German only in name.
When we moved back to the United States in 2016, there was perhaps no culture shock greater than the fact that our 2 year old’s only option was “pre-school”, or as I like to call it: “pre-pre-pre-school”. That is, of course, unless we wanted to take out a second mortgage for Montessori school.
Rather than rail on the American system, which in some ways is fine, I guess, let me tell you what I absolutely loved about raising a child in Denmark, while recognizing a few of the pitfalls.
We were able to get Olivia in a vuggestue that was literally in the backyard of our apartment complex. Many Danish parents, particularly those closer to Copenhagen, are not as lucky.
Still, early childhood care is GUARANTEED, and subsidized by the government. We paid approximately 20% of the cost of our daughter attending school, or $400-500 a month for full day (8:00-5:00) childcare in an expensive area.
Inside, Olivia was in a classroom of mixed ages that varied in size from around 8-12 kids. There were three teachers, the leader of which had a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and at least twenty years of experience.
There was almost no focus placed on “teaching” anything outside of social skills. From the beginning, kids sat down at a table together for two snacks and a lunch together. Kids learned to play with older kids when they were babies and babies when they got older.
The school had an outdoor playground, and the kids went outside for several long stretches, unless there was pouring rain. Teachers were quite apologetic when children didn’t get to play outside.
And while Olivia had a home “classroom”, she mixed with a larger group of 50-60 kids and a larger group of teachers.
Those were the parts that are easy to describe. Others have a little bit of “you had to be there” to them. Every time I dropped Olivia off at school, the atmosphere was calm and happy. No one seemed stressed or overwhelmed.
The three teachers were usually there together for the middle of the day, but never for the full nine hours. They seemed like they had good working conditions.
We had parent/teacher conferences. Nothing academic was discussed. We talked about how Olivia was getting along with other kids. How was she doing eating food? How did she interact with the adults? What did she like to do? What challenges did she face and how could we tackle them together?
I believe very strongly that “kids these days” have never had more pressure placed on their “performance”. They are expected to “perform” academically at younger and younger ages, as if there is some Darwinian advantage to reading at four and a half versus six years old.
This was a performance free environment. You know what Olivia was expected to do every day? She was expected to play with other kids and have fun. She was expected to be polite and kind and interact with a variety of people.
Pray tell me what is more important: learning addition and subtraction a few months early or learning to comport yourself in society?
Even if our American minds balked a bit at the prospect of her not beginning the equivalent of American Kindergarten until age six (she would actually have been seven a few months into the year), I found it damn refreshing.
Sadly while I was there it seems the Danes lost a little bit of faith in the chillness of their public education, worried like every other privileged place about “test scores”. They kept early childhood education intact but lengthened the school day for older kids, because that was what had made their neighbor Finland so successful. Wait, it wasn’t? Well shoot.
Here’s to hoping that we stop losing our collective minds here in the US, putting ridiculous pressure on kids not to be kids and causing undue harm in the pursuit of squeezing a few more points onto their SAT scores.
There is a strong brand of media out there existing to prey on that parental anxiety. It makes us worry about things we do to varying degrees. I’ve made a joke in our family for every time we don’t follow the “best practices” of parenting to a T. I laugh and say “well, I guess she/he’s not getting into Harvard”.