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Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
This needs to be written about. Not because it’s a topic I enjoy bringing up, but because this is a time of year when, despite the inherent joy of the holiday season, people are hurting more than we think. The reason I know this is because I am hurting more than you think. And I know I’m not alone. For reference, here’s my back story.
If you’re going through your first holiday season after the loss of a parent (or anyone you were especially close with), I don’t need to tell you that it’s practically unbearable. And for me, it was after seeing the Christmas lights strung up on banisters around town that it hit me—whether I liked it or not, life was going on without my mother. And I had absolutely no choice but to deal with it. In the grand scheme of things, the conveyor belt of life continued to operate, and I felt like I had two choices: Stay on and force a smile, or jump off and pout. You’ll probably find yourself doing a little bit of both. Especially during the month of December.
I’ve also learned that, despite the support we get from our close friends and families, how we cope with these losses is something we must decide completely on our own. In other words, it’s our cross to bear. So I’ve assembled a list, a defense strategy against the inevitable sadness that can and will overtake you over the holidays. I’m certainly no doctor, but I hope it helps. It has for me.
This is absolutely crucial. Don’t over-work yourself. As parents, we have a tendency to forget about our own well-being completely, but in grief you’ll realize that this tactic will backfire. So, take days off. Surround yourself with only people who bring you up, not down. Get a massage. Go to the movies. Don’t be afraid to pamper yourself. After what you’ve gone through, you wholeheartedly deserve it. And if anyone dares question your new-found affinity for taking care of yourself, feel free to be blunt with them.
- Remind people you need them
It’s not easy. I’m well aware of that. We all want to be perceived as being strong, a rock. But that strategy works against you in grief. For me, picking up the phone and calling my 87-year-old grandmother or a friend to let them know I still need their support certainly didn’t feel natural. But the people in your life who truly care for you will respond in kind. As I’ve discovered, as soon as the funeral ends, most people will go on with their lives assuming you’re fine unless you speak up. And if talking to friends and family doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to seek counseling. There’s no shame in this game.
- Remember the parent in your own way
I’ve gone through phases of holding onto my mother’s possessions for dear life (keeping her cell phone in my sock drawer, storing her social security card in my wallet) to shutting her image completely out of my mind. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel comfortable having pictures of her up around the house, and on occasion bring her up to my older son so that she seems “present” in his life. And during Christmastime, while every other window is illuminated with a single white candle, I leave the candle in my bedroom off, in memory of her. That might seem odd to some, but it gives me a small bit of peace when I need it most. It doesn’t have to make sense.
- Focus on your greatest blessings
If you have children, hug them tighter. If you have cats, hug them tighter. If you really love chocolate, don’t hug it tighter. That would be weird. But you see where I’m going with this. I’ve found that accentuating the strongest positives in life helps enormously. It reminds us that there’s still plenty of good left in this world to enjoy, despite what we’ve lost.
- Don’t feel guilty “moving on”
I think there’s a tendency to stay “stuck in the moment” of losing someone, especially a parent. Your life grinds to a halt, and it almost doesn’t feel “right” to move on without them. I mean, how can we simply keep living like everything’s fine when it clearly isn’t? I’m incredibly guilty of clinging to this perspective. But what I (and anyone dealing with grief) need to know is that moving on does not mean forgetting. It does not mean we don’t care and it does not mean we’re not in pain. It simply means that we’re choosing to embrace the light rather than the dark. There will be days when the dark wins, but if we put ourselves in situations that enable happiness (for both us and our children), I think we’ll find ourselves smiling more often than not.
Sorry if you were expecting my “lighter side” today, but frankly, the weight we feel on our shoulders (specifically as parents) can feel unrelenting at times. People need to know they’re not alone in their most personal stresses. I hope this provided even the slightest bit of relief for them. So this is Joe DeProspero, guest blogger for Parents.com reminding you that we’re all in this together. Happy holidays, everyone.
On this topic especially, I’d love to hear from you. Simply writing about your personal experience could provide more relief than you’d think. Feel free to add a comment below.
* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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Joe DeProspero, Losing a Parent
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
Potentially the toughest overall challenge of parenthood, at least for me, has been devoting the appropriate amount of hours to my job and to my children. Frankly, I’ve been considering writing about this for months, my hesitation stemming from the fact that I could be interpreted as a not-so-dedicated worker, if any of my colleagues were to read this. But alas, it’s a discussion that needs to be had.
I’m a disaster in the morning. Meaning, I have no patience, I fly off the handle if the littlest thing doesn’t go smoothly. And this is especially problematic when you have two uncooperative children to get fed, dressed, and out the door in time for school. And that’s not even taking into account the time it actually takes to wake them up and get them into the kitchen. I’ve gotten passive aggressive emails from their school, more than once. They remind me that school starts promptly at 8:30, that bringing them in later than that sends the wrong message to the children. Well, I encourage them to spend just one morning with mine, forcing a flailing leg into a pair of pants, trying to determine if he’s having a tantrum because he’s sick and tired or because he’s just being a jerk. When I had only myself to dress and feed in the morning, I could wake up late, shove a granola bar into my mouth and bring a thermos of coffee for my commute. Done deal. But now, the very real possibility that my kids will wake up before I do, in inconsolable moods happens more often than I’d like to admit. And when this does happen, I have a decision to make. How much am I willing to allow my children to affect my reputation at work?
This past Halloween, I found myself in a situation at work where I was torn between the responsibilities of my job and those of parenthood. In the office, there was a project going on that required me to be there till about 1:00 p.m. My 4-year-old son, Antonio’s Halloween parade at school was happening at 1:30. I work about 30 minutes from his school. So even the slightest of delays would mean me missing the parade, which I adamantly did NOT want to miss. Not only do I adore Halloween, but I want my kids to look back at moments like that and remember me being there. You can probably guess that the work project wound up getting delayed. And I was left with a choice. Leave the office and risk looking like I abandoned an important project or stay at work and disappoint my son. I opted to split the difference. I stayed an extra 20 minutes at work, tying up loose ends and ensuring the project would get done (mainly by colleagues I was leaving behind) and then literally raced to my son’s school to catch as much of the parade as I could. I ended up catching the last 1/3 of the parade/concert, feeling partly like I’d let both my boss and son down at the same time. My boss, to his credit, encouraged me to be with my family that day. At the same time, I also know that staying instead of leaving would’ve had a more positive impact on my overall career. But at the cost of my absence at a significant moment in my son’s life? I made the decision to say no, regardless of consequence. And I’d do it again.
Don’t get me wrong. I work my ass off. Anybody who’s seen me on the job knows this. But that struggle of balance will always be there, no matter my efforts. And as any parent knows, once you’re done with the middle-of-the-night feedings and tantrums, impossibly frustrating mornings at the breakfast table, the last thing you want to do is push yourself even further. But we do. We all do. If you’re anything like me, you constantly feel pulled in at least 25 different directions, your career, parenthood, household duties, and even hobbies relentlessly (and hopelessly) vying for your brain’s undivided attention at all times. However, at the end of each day, I’m far more proud of the accomplishments I’ve made as a parent than as an office worker. I’ll never be a CEO, I’ll never own a house you could get lost in. But my sons will remember me for (hopefully) being a mainstay in every aspect of their lives. That, to me, is exponentially more important. To read more about someone who feels very much like I do (albeit in a much higher rank), read about this CEO who quit his job to be a more present father and grandfather. Granted, he’s actually at retirement age anyway, but it’s still an admirable stance worth reading about.
Follow me on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
*Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
It’s easy to learn things from people who won’t shut up. For instance, I learned a great deal about college basketball and why I should be excited about it from famously boisterous announcer Dick Vitale. I learned about democracy from my know-it-all politics professor in college. But the important stuff? The lessons that help mold you as a person, facilitate connections with others and help you to become a functioning member of society? I learned those from someone who never had to shout them in my face.
My mother was (and I still don’t feel comfortable using the past tense) the kind of person you wanted at your party. She was the kind of person you’d call when you wanted to escape the stresses of your career and the evils of the world. But one thing she wasn’t was preachy. Never. I always appreciated that about her. Sure, she let the hammer fall if and when I failed many, many science tests in school, but she tended to mind her own business when it came to my decisions beyond the age of 18. Regardless of that fact, I learned invaluable lessons from her, sometimes intentionally and sometimes completely by accident.
Mom and me at my band’s show, 2008
In no particular order, here’s what I’ve learned from mom, either through her actions, words, or lack of words.
Kindness is contagious
It was nearly impossible to dislike my mother. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my mother. She was unbelievably amiable, always pleasant in her dealings with others and her smile and laugh were downright infectious. Because of that, people around her tended to be friendlier, happier and in better spirits. It’s often stated that “misery loves company,” but what doesn’t get said enough is that happy people create more happy people.
If you have something to say, even something negative, say it
You may hate the reference, but that John Mayer song holds a great deal of truth. In the song, “Say” he includes the line, “It’s better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say.” I remember it often, especially how it relates to my parents’ marriage. Hard feelings fester and eat away at you over time. Despite my mother’s cheerful disposition, I often believed that she held her negative thoughts inside so as not to hurt feelings. This probably explains why she rarely had anything to say to my father, who she was divorced from by the time I graduated college (to be clear, I’m not pointing a finger at either of them, but it was obvious that communication wasn’t bountiful). Whenever I’m at odds with someone, I think of the silence that too often surrounded my childhood, and for better or worse, I say (or type) what’s on my mind. If you’re a regular reader of mine, this much you know.
Be remembered for your smile, not your title
Put another way, work to live, don’t live to work. I don’t think my mother was ever passionate about her career, but she still left one hell of an impression on people she worked with, co-workers from two and three jobs ago attending her funeral services, devastated. The thing is that, while she wasn’t passionate about her job, she was passionate about her family and how that job provided for them. And you pretty much never heard her talking about work at the dinner table, nor would anyone distinguish her by what title she held or what company she worked for. When she died, people remembered her laugh, her sense of humor, and “that time we got silly drinking gin and tonics.” I’d prefer to be remembered for those things, too.
Don’t waste time on a bad friend
More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve tried breathing life into a friendship that was clearly dead on arrival. Since I’m such a loyal person, I tend to clutch onto relationships, even if the other half of the equation isn’t doing the same. Many years ago, when I was just a teenager, I noticed that mom’s best friend, who normally was a mainstay in our house, hadn’t been around in months. Glumly, mom informed me that, despite her best efforts, this woman was showing no interest in continuing the friendship, so she was no longer pursuing it. I know it hurt my mother to accept that, but I understood that we all come to a point where we’ve “done all we could.” Unfortunately, immediately following mom’s death, I also lost a close friend, who no-showed the funeral services entirely. I stopped reaching out afterward, and not surprisingly, he followed suit.
Treat your guests like kings and queens
Coming from an Italian background, this one was a given. But I learned at an early age that, when you have people over the house, you feed them. A lot. Almost to the point of making them physically ill. And you make them comfortable. It’s an Italian thing. It’s what we do. Mom’s opinion was always that, if you didn’t want to treat your guests like family, why bother having them over in the first place?
Don’t be defined by bad news
Shortly after my mom died, I overheard someone describing me to another person on the phone. I was explained as, “That guy whose mom died at age 59, he found her body, and then he told his grandmother, and she died too.” I know it’s an easy point of reference, but I truly hope that at the end of my life, I’m remembered more for the way I reacted to bad news than by the bad news itself. Losing mom forced me to flex a muscle I never knew was there. But despite the inherent sadness and gloom, her death also provided a learning opportunity. I learned that I can either succumb to life’s challenges or grow stronger from them, for me and for my children. Every single day, I’m striving to accomplish the latter, no matter how unnervingly sad her absence makes me.
I think the most important lessons are ones we learn from the actions of others, and not necessarily specific words that were said. As parents, whether we like it or not, our children will learn their most important lessons from us. That fact may terrify you (it certainly does me). But I try my best to encourage my kids to make a positive impact on others, the same way my mother did for me. I can only hope that in 30 years, my boys have similar words to say about their parents.
So, before you go to bed tonight, think of the lessons you learned from your parents and how many of them you wish to instill in your own kids. Thanks for reading, as usual, and I strongly encourage you to join this conversation by adding a comment below.
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Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
Have you ever been talking to someone, and you suddenly find yourself wondering if you left the stove on at home? So, you retrace your steps, map out your entire morning, and before you know it, you haven’t been listening to your friend at all for 45 straight seconds. At that point, you have one wish and one wish only: Please don’t ask me a question that relates to the story you just told me. And I find that, as a parent, this type of situation presents itself far too frequently. It doesn’t help that your brain is so worn out that it has lost the ability to focus on, well, anything.
Let’s be clear; I was not a very good student in school. Part of the reason is because I didn’t apply myself to subjects I found boring (which was almost all of them), and another part is that I have a difficult time retaining information that doesn’t relate to fantasy football stats or character plots on Breaking Bad. So, naturally, a great concern of mine is that one or both of my sons will start asking me questions I flat out don’t have the answers to (because I either wasn’t paying attention when they were being taught, or I just don’t remember). Considering my sons don’t play fantasy football or watch Breaking Bad yet, I get the feeling I’ll find myself stumped early and often.
Randomly, here are five questions I’m hoping I never have to answer for my children:
1. Can you help me with my algebra homework?
I fear the day my son comes home with an equation-filled ditto and realizes his father is an idiot. Calculating 20% of a tip? You got it. Figuring out exactly how many rushing yards I need from Maurice Jones-Drew to score enough fantasy points to win my matchup? Done. But…finding x? I have to admit, I’ve been trying to find x for over 20 years, and I give up. I’ll sooner find meaning in a Kevin James movie. Sorry, kid, but I’m afraid I can’t help you. And I really don’t care where x is. You shouldn’t either.
2. What’s the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?
I will never, ever remember. Yes, I know I can simply Google this. So, let’s do that right now…
I clicked on the very first result that came up after asking the search engine, “What’s the difference between alligators and crocs?” and one of the first sentences is: “All alligators are crocodiles, but not all crocodiles are alligators.” I’m confused already, and I’m an adult. What chance do I have of explaining this to a kid?
3. If someone pushes me, should I push them back?
This is a tough one. I want my child to stand up for himself, but I don’t want to encourage violence. Nor do I want to encourage him to bypass revenge, only to rat his classmate out to the teacher. As someone who dealt with a moderate share of bullying myself as a kid, it’s very tempting to suggest that my son tap dance on this kid’s face with cleats.
4. Who’s that guy hiding in my closet with the Bill Clinton mask on?
This isn’t a political statement. I’m just really freaked out by those presidential masks. Any of them. Especially when I see one peering out from behind the crack of a closet door. Because how in the world can I be expected to protect my kids from this hooligan if I’m terrified myself? It should be noted here that George Clinton would make for a much more fun, dynamic mask.
5. What do you do for a living?
A college basketball mascot. Dishwasher salesman. The guy who duplicates keys at Home Depot. All sexier jobs than mine. I work in webcasting, virtual meeting technology. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I do. It’s just that I’m ashamed of what I don’t do. And what I don’t do is a job that you’re really excited to tell your friends or teachers about. I plan to book a vacation every year that overlaps with “Career Day.”
Do you have a question you’re dreading? Worse, have you already been asked it and now your kid has lost faith in your intelligence? Tweet me with the hashtag #kidquestions.
Plus: Check out these so funny and so true parenting quotes or take our quiz to find out if you’re setting a good example for your little ones.
* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is currently working on releasing a parenting humor book. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
I apologize for the lateness of this letter, but I don’t have as much free time as you do.
We’ve been friends for many years. You’ve known me as a careless teen and a carefree adolescent. It is due to the long, rich history which we both share that I offer you the respect of an explanation of who I am today, because I feel that my lack of presence in your life could be misinterpreted as apathy. On the contrary, I value our friendship a great deal. After all, you were technically there before my wife and children were. So, with that said, here’s how I feel about our floundering relationship, along with some practical ideas to keep it afloat.
First and foremost, don’t forget that I exist, please. I understand that my schedule has filled up faster than the men’s room at halftime of the Super Bowl since I’ve become a dad. But being a father in no way diminishes my ability or desire to be invited to bars for the liberal consumption of alcohol. In fact, it increases it. Exponentially. So, while I certainly don’t expect an invite every weekend, don’t just assume that I’m too busy or exhausted. I’ve been known to make time for people who I consider important, Jack Daniels being one of them.
I promise when we do spend time together that I won’t monopolize the conversation with talk of what you will likely perceive as my son’s minor accomplishments (his first words, his first bike, his painfully awkward school picture). But if you don’t show any interest in my chosen lifestyle of taming tantrums and mastering Fresh Beat Band lyrics, don’t expect me to be interested in hearing every excruciating detail of your weekend that included a Jersey Shore marathon, an unfettered poolside read, and a nap. I do my best not to allow the fact that I’ve procreated dominant any conversation. In fact, I’m flattered when you tell me, “I still find it hard to believe that you’re a father.” However, when you overemphasize the word “you’re,” it’s kind of insulting.
On the flip-side of that, please don’t be offended if I can’t go to your party that starts at 8:00 at night. My kids are normally in bed by 8:30. Would you be excited to go to a party that started right before you were planning to be in pajamas? I didn’t think so. Regardless, you leave me two choices. Well, three actually.
1). Going to your party and dragging my kids along, which I don’t think either of us want, especially when there are drunken dancers and ghastly house music involved.
2). Going to your party and leaving my wife to watch over the kids (which actually would be great, so I get out of the bedtime routine for a night. But the downside is I wouldn’t be able to drink and I’d be hanging out with other people who would be. If I have to say it, being sober around drunk people is my version of hell.)
3). Hiring a babysitter. I was going to hire a babysitter once. Then I watched the news. Now I trust no one.
Don’t get mad at me for being late. And please know that I will
occasionally lie about what time I plan to actually arrive at the destination where I’m meeting you. Because I have control issues, I prefer to put my kids to sleep before leaving. And when they’ll actually fall asleep is truly anyone’s guess. And naturally, at least one of my children will pick the night I made plans to develop croup, bronchitis, and an immunity to nighttime medicine. So why do I lie then? Because I know I certainly would never commit to plans with anyone who told me, “I’ll be there between 9:00 and 11:30.” I want to see you. This is why I lie to you. Think of me as the cable guy.
And please don’t tell me you need a vacation. Ever. Once you become a parent, you realize that the only ones who should be taking vacations are people who have to deal with erratic, irrational offspring day in and day out. You don’t “need” a vacation. Simply urinating without an audience would qualify as one for me.
So, in summary, I’m willing to meet in the middle. As long as you do your best to understand that I am at the mercy of the children I’m raising for the next couple of decades. In fact, let’s drink to that. I’ll meet you at the Tap House at 9:00.
Do you have friends who you feel alienated from? Has your social life take a dive since becoming a parent? I want to hear about it! Leave all comments by clicking on the comments section below!
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