NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 4 – Multiplayer.

I’m about to board (another) flight to Philadelphia, this time for a wedding. I’m excited to hang out with friends that I haven’t seen in while as I sit down to write the final post in this month’s series. I’ve come to realize that, good or bad, some of the best memories of my life are from playing video games. And most of those memories had less to do with the game I was playing, and more to do with the people I was playing with.

Sometimes, it was about the journey. The game itself didn’t matter so much, it was just the fact that we had a common goal, and we were in the foxhole together.

It was about going back and forth between laughing and yelling at each other while playing Super Mario 3-D World with my wife:

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It was about one of my buddies from college who wasn’t really into video games all that much, but who still agreed to play Tales of Symphonia with me and stick with it until the end, a game that easily took us over 70 hours to complete:

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It was about playing Zelda with various roommates throughout the years. Some who joined in eagerly, some who I dragged kicking and screaming, and some who just wanted to watch the adventure unfold:

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Other times, it was about escape. It was just about just goofing off with friends, and maybe engaging in some low-stakes competition. It was about whiling away the summers playing Monkey Ball, which sometimes looked like this:

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Or this:

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And eventually this… a single level, sixty seconds long, which we played again and again for months until we finally beat it:

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It was about playing Mario Party. It was sitting on a dirty couch in a smokey frat house sophomore year staring at flickering screen, laughing and talking until it was time for Black Hole Boogie and things got serious:image-65The room seemed to get darker, and everything faded into the background as you focused on one, single thing: tapping “A”. Tapping “A” as fast as you possibly could. Then, after winning, taking a self-righteous victory swig of the Busch Light you’d left on the coffee table, only to spit it out because one of your idiot friends ashed his cigarette in the can thinking it was empty because you were living in a house full of animals.

Also it was about Hot Rope Jump:image-66

But most of the time it wasn’t about the journey or the escape… but the competition.

The purity of competition when the stakes are high. And this took many forms, too numerous to mention. It started with Tetris and Pac Man, then later games like NBA Jam, Madden, Mortal Kombat, Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Team Fortress, Halo, Mario Baseball, Wii Sports… the list goes on. 

But for me, the pinnacle of competition had to be playing Super Smash Bros:

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This wasn’t a game for me – it was a practice. I have a nemesis when it comes to this game, and I’ve literally been playing against this guy for 20 years. He always plays as Donkey Kong, and I remember being in middle school, knowing that I was going to spend the night at his house that weekend, and coming home from school and playing against 3 Level 9 Donkey Kong CPU characters at once to prepare for the day of reckoning.

It’s crazy to think how much time I spent playing all these games, especially since these days it’s tough to find any time at all. Maybe that’s a good thing – I can’t say for sure that some (or all) of my hours spent gaming wasn’t just a complete waste of time. I mean especially when I played the same games with the same people for hours on end, there had to be some diminishing returns on that.

That being said, I was a shy kid growing up. Video games were common ground. They were an excuse to get together, sometimes to talk about anything and everything, other times to talk about nothing, but regardless of what we did that time spent together was important to me. And the reality is that the people I played these games with are still some of my closest friends to this day.

This series started as a sort of love letter to video games, and I can’t do that properly without acknowledging the people I was gaming with. I’m very grateful to have spent hours of my life playing with you, with no goal in mind other than to just hang out.

Thanks for the memories – now pass the controller.

NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 3 – Graphics vs. Gameplay.

Video game reviews typically evaluate several criteria: gameplay, length, story, graphics, sound, etc. Which begs the question: if you’re trying to determine the overall quality of a game, which of these criteria is most important?

Well gameplay, obviously.

At least that’s what I’ve always told myself. After all,  you’re playing a game, and the quality of that experience rests on the game’s content. How the game actually works, the obstacles you face and your means of overcoming them, these qualities are what gaming is all about. Things like graphics and sound are cool and all but, but they’re also kind of…

Kind of what?

“Kind of superficial.”

And just like that, what started out as an innocuous post about graphics vs. gameplay within the context of video games has cracked open an ugly debate about something much more fundamental and far-reaching: content vs. design.

Donkey Kong Country: A Case Study In Content Vs. Design

I’ve probably clocked in more hours playing Donkey Kong Country than any other game. I was in a band in high school and my drummer had the game at his house. After a half-hour of practicing we’d usually just play Donkey Kong for hours on end. I’m sure we’d be rock stars by now if we’d put half the time into writing songs that we put into playing video games.

And don’t get me wrong, the gameplay in Donkey Kong was phenomenal. But there was more to it than that. It wasn’t just about jumping and swinging, bashing bad guys, collecting bananas, blasting out of barrels. There was something else.

Donkey Kong Country was a beautiful game.

I mean look at it!

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Younger readers might not appreciate this, but when I first saw the pre-rendered 3-D graphics of a monkey wearing a tie scratching his head my jaw dropped. And the music… my friend and I both had MP3s of the entire soundtrack. The underwater music alone still gives me chills.

There have been other “wow” moments like this throughout my gaming career, usually corresponding with the release of a new game console. I remember when I first saw Mario jump out of a 3-D pipe, and realized that gaming as I knew it had changed forever:

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More recently, I played the latest installment of the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild. I remember walking onto a cliff and staring in disbelief at what looked like a painting but was actually an intricate world I could explore to my hearts desire:

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But even I have to admit that Donkey Kong’s graphics are showing their age a little bit. So how important are they, really?

Well, let’s just talk about the “mine cart” levels. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, these are levels in the game where you’re traveling at high speeds in a mine cart, like this:

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Everyone always fights over the controller when it comes to the mine cart levels. They’re so much fun! But why?

Is it the gameplay? If you think about it, the control functions in the mine cart levels are actually fairly limited. Whereas in other levels you can jump, climb, crawl, explore, go backwards forwards and so on, once you’re in the mine cart all you can do is jump. Period.

So why is it so much fun? I think the answer to this question, and the question about the relative importance of content vs. design, is the same. The quality of a gaming experience isn’t just about gameplay or sound or graphics or plot: it’s about everything.

The pace of the music, the spacing of the obstacles, the objects flying by in the background, and yes the responsiveness of the A-button you’re tapping to jump, these qualities all interact and come together to create a magical gaming experience. Like legs of a stool, each of these has equal importance, and you’re going to notice if one isn’t in line with the others.

So why is this important? Well, for years I considered content and design to be a zero-sum game, where favoring one would always come at the expense of the other. I think this attitude is misguided, and could have far-reaching implications in my life if I’m not careful.

Take this blog for example. Zero effort was put into the design of this blog. Font? Default WordPress setting. Structure? Default WordPress setting. The only thing I changed was the background color, which I recently updated to a particular shade of blue-green that I use at work because it’s supposed to be easier on your eyes than looking at a white screen. You’re welcome!

As I dig deeper, I realize that I haven’t just shown indifference toward design, I’ve shown contempt for it. And I’m afraid that this attitude might be grounded in a deep seeded insecurity about my own lack of knowledge in this area.

Saying that “design is superficial” is much easier than admitting I have a blind-spot when it comes to design. It’s easier to say that fonts don’t matter, rather than admit that I’m too lazy to research fonts. If I can convince myself that something isn’t important, then it doesn’t really matter if I don’t see or understand it, right?

Wrong. Basically what I’m saying is I’m Anne Hathaway’s character in the blue sweater scene from Devil Wear’s Prada. And I want to fix that.

So How Do I Fix It?

I think it starts with withholding judgement. We tend to judge what we don’t understand, and judgement in turn acts as a barrier to understanding.

So I just need to break the cycle. The next time I catch myself asking “why does this matter?” or “who cares?” I’m going to try to ask myself a different question:

“What can this teach me?”

And then I’m going to learn.

NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 2 – The Reset Button.

“Life doesn’t have a reset button.”

My dad used to say this whenever he caught me leaning in to press this:

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He’s right of course. In life, you can’t just start over from the beginning and erase the mistakes that you’ve made. The world doesn’t let you just “try again,” free of consequences.

But then again, neither does the reset button.

It isn’t a time machine. You, the player, still have to deal with some consequences. If nothing else, you lose the time you spent playing the game up to that point. And hopefully you come away from that experience having learned lessons that you can apply next time you play.

In that sense, life has plenty of reset buttons. Going to college? Reset button. Changing your workout plan? Reset button. New job? New town? New marriage? All reset buttons in their own way.

In gaming and in life, I’ve pressed the reset button more times than I care to admit.

Sometimes I press it because I’m trapped. I’ve reached an impasse, and to continue would be a waste of time. So I hit the reset button, telling myself that next time I’ll avoid the pitfall.

Other times I’m just frustrated. I hit the reset button as sort of a knee-jerk reaction. This usually happens when I feel like I’ve caught a bad break; the game was wrong, I was cheated. I didn’t touch that fire stick, that bad guy wasn’t supposed to be there, and I definitely shot that duck:

Sometimes I hit the reset button because I’m scared. Maybe I’ve screwed up and my confidence is shaken. I tell myself that I need more practice, that I’m not ready for the next level, and that after a few more hours of practicing the earlier levels I’ll be better prepared to take that next step.

These are all valid reasons, but I think we can agree that the reset button isn’t always the answer. So… when should you press it?

Having a mindful approach to the reset button can save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run. To do that, you need to keep three things in mind.

1. You Need To Have Clear Goals.

What do you actually want? A clear goal might be, “I want to beat this game tonight.” Let’s use Contra as an example:

If you get hit in Contra, the consequences are pretty serious. Not only do you lose a valuable life, but you lose your progress in the level and you lose whatever weapon upgrades you’ve acquired up to that point. So that Spread Gun you worked so hard to carry this far? Gone.

Say the game takes about an hour to beat, it’s 7:45 p.m. and you have a 9:00 bedtime. you’re moving along and you get hit in the first level – way earlier than you’re accustomed to. Well, you could make the case that hitting the reset button gives you a better shot at accomplishing your goal.

If, instead, you were halfway through the game and it was already 8:30, well then the reset button is off-limits. This is your last shot; hitting the reset button would literally make it impossible to accomplish your goal (unless you want to try to renegotiate bedtime, or leave the NES on for an entire day so you can pick it back up tomorrow evening. I’ve had limited success with these two strategies).

But what if you don’t have a goal? Or put differently, what if the “goal” is just to have fun? I mean, isn’t that what this series on Playing More is all about?

If you genuinely don’t care about beating the game and your goal is really just to “have fun,” great – press the reset button to your heart’s desire. But be careful with that goal – it can be tempting to say that you don’t care about something and use it as an excuse to get sloppy. It comes down to being honest with yourself, which brings me to point two.

2. Be Honest About Your Intention.

The reset button is easy to use, and this can lead to in an unfortunate phenomenon: tilting.

Tilting is when you’ve made a mistake, you’re frustrated, and you make more mistakes as a result of your negative mental state. I’ve been there – I’ve totally been the guy to run into a bad guy, mash the reset button, then immediately run into the same bad guy.

Try to detach. Ask yourself, “why am I pressing the reset button? Is it because I genuinely learned from my mistake, and it will save me time in the long-run if I go back and redo it? Or, am I just hitting it out of frustration and trying to erase the consequences of my mistakes?”

3. When In Doubt, Keep Going.

As I sat down to write this post, I wanted to present an even-handed view of the reset button. Because I do think that life presents plenty of situations where hitting the reset button is the right thing to do. However, when it comes to gaming, I’m honestly having trouble coming up with good reasons to do it. I dunno, maybe they’re not so different.

You can spend your whole life playing Level 1. You can tell yourself that it’s fun to swim in the shallows, and you can spend your days “preparing” for a battle that you’re never actually going to fight. Because if you spend all your time on Level 1, guess what? You’re never going to get to Level 2. And you can forget about Level 6, which is on so high a pedestal by now you can never hope to reach it.

When in doubt, keep going. It’s not always comfortable, but that’s how you get better (and have more fun, too).

NYR 19-07: “Play More.” Part 1 – Instruction Manual.

Sometimes when I’m writing these posts I feel like the dad in Calvin and Hobbes:

I think it’s healthy to play. It’s important take time for yourself every once in a while to do something, anything really, just for the pure joy of it and not as a means toward any sort of practical benefit. Great! Then let’s make a New Year’s Resolution to “Play More.”

…But there’s a problem. You bump up against a paradox pretty quick here – for example, just reread that first sentence:

“I think it’s healthy to play…”

That sounds like a practical benefit to me.

The fundamental problem with creating a goal around playing is that to play is to have no goal. When you’re playing you’re not trying to do anything, that’s the whole point. So what’s a spreadsheet-building, goal-tracking self-help guy like me supposed to do?

I decided to start by looking back on my own experiences, hoping to remember what exactly “playing” meant to me. After all, I’ve definitely played before as a kid. I’ve just forgotten how.

I didn’t play outside much, like Calvin in the comic. I played some sports, but even those ended up being pretty goal-oriented the more I progressed. What did I do?

I found the answer a few weeks ago as I was cleaning my condo:

Ah, now I remember – video games. This was my playground.

For example:

  • I learned how to read by studying the instruction manual for Super Mario Bros. 3.
  • In high school I attended, and hosted, LAN parties for everything from Command and Conquer to Halo (hyperlink included for those of you who were too popular in high school to know what a LAN party is)
  • I’ve played Mario Superstar Baseball every year, with the same guy, for the past 14 years.

I could go on, but my point is this: I know how to play. At least, I used to.

So how did I do it?

That’s what I’m hoping to articulate in this post. For those of you who’ve forgotten how to play, think of this as an Instruction Manual.

It’s simple really: trying to play is like trying to fall asleep.

If you try too hard to fall sleep, you’re never going to get anywhere. Sleep isn’t something you do, it’s something you let happen. It isn’t about grabbing hold of unconsciousness, it’s about letting go of consciousness. The only thing you can do is try to create an environment conducive to sleep, and hope for the best.

So take a look back, and try to remember what playing looked like for you as a kid. Then just do your best to create an environment where that can happen again.

My New Year’s Resolution is this:

In 2019, I’m going to play some video games.

And this month I’m going to write about them, too.

Ambitious? Perhaps not. But in this season of my life where I’m so focused on making the best use of my time, carving out a few hours to just play video games has actually been a challenge. But I’m trying. It took me several weeks to even pick up a video game once I came up with this idea, and even then things got off to a rocky start.

Power On

I was on a flight to Philadelphia for my buddy’s bachelor party. A few of my friends were on the same flight; we had burgers and beers before boarding, but we weren’t sitting together on the plane.

I wedged myself into the narrow seat between two strangers and looked out the window at the lazy, overcast sky and the empty runway. My eyes started to feel heavy. I didn’t want to fall asleep. I knew if I did I’d wake up cranky, a disservice to my comrades and to the bachelor. What was I to do? I’d just finished reading a book and didn’t feel like starting another one. I could write I guess, but I’ve never had great experiences with writing after drinking.

I took off my backpack and tried to shove it under the seat in front of me. It was bulkier than usual, and that’s when I remembered: I’d been carrying a handheld game console in my backpack ever since I thought of this New Year’s Resolution, waiting for the right time to play.

If not now, when? I fumbled around to find the power button. I pressed it, and sunk into my chair beneath the glow of the warm, familiar red light. Power On.

I started playing, but my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about how stupid an idea it was to write about this, and how this wasn’t even technically playing if the underlying goal was to use it as content for a blog post. I felt like I was wasting my time.

It was an old game (Chrono Trigger, 1995). The graphics were showing their age, the dialogue seemed predictable. I didn’t view the game with the sense of wonder I might have had as a child, but as a man in is thirties who was caught up in nostalgia, grabbing at straws trying to relive the past. I began to feel disenchanted, a little depressed.

And then I felt… frustrated.

Because I’d reached a mini-game set in a fairground involving a “high striker” that wasn’t cooperating.

For those who don’t know what a high striker is (I had to Google the name myself), it’s the game where you hit a lever with a mallet as hard as you can, sending a puck up a tower to ring a bell at the top. Normally a test of strength, in the video game it was a test of timing. You had to tap “A” when the puck was at the very top, and I kept missing it.

And I was getting really frustrated. Now I was not only wasting time playing an outdated video game, I was wasting time within the game, unable to progress past this stupid mini-game. And then it happened.

Ding!

I got a “silver point” for my troubles. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it felt nice. I explored more of the fairgrounds and came upon another game, one which actually cost 10 “silver points” to play. I rolled my eyes, and returned to the high striker, determined to win 9 more times for the entrance fee. It was easier the second time, then the third, then…

Ding! Ding! Ding!

I’d gotten in a rhythm, and thought to myself, “Why stop? There’s bound to be other things I can buy with these silver points, might as well keep playing this while I’ve got the timing down.”

I entered a flow state where nothing mattered in the world except hitting that bell. It was a dance, watching the bell on the screen approaching the top, my thumb naturally hitting the button just slightly before it got there to account for a delay I’d picked up on, the familiar Ding! of the bell…

A woman cleared her throat.

I turned; it was the lady next to me. She was standing up in her seat, scowling. I popped my headphones out and looked around. I saw the empty seats in front of me, the line of people in the aisle behind me.

The plane had landed. Half the passengers had already deboarded. I hadn’t even noticed.

I mumbled an apology, yanked my bag out from under the seat and rushed down the aisle to join my companions at the gate. I was smiling.

I was back on the playground.

“Summit Meeting.”

We’re halfway through the year.

26 posts and 25,000 words later, it’s time for a New Year’s Revolutionary Summit Meeting. Time to pause, take stock, and see how we’re doing on the NYR’s we’ve covered so far.

NYR 19-01: “Workout More.” Perform 154 “Brad Pitt Workouts” during the first six months of 2019. Click here for the spreadsheet.

If you’ll recall from my earlier post, the plan here was to do 154 workouts in six months based on the workout regimen that Brad Pitt (supposedly) did in preparation for his role in the movie Fight Club, and to come out on the other side looking like this:

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And I did it.

I’ve averaged six workouts per week since January. Guys, that’s insane considering just two years ago I was barely able to get the “50 workouts a year” needed for my firm-sponsored gym reimbursement.

Guys, I know you don’t always look at the spreadsheet. But come on… look at the spreadsheet! I added 60 pounds to my bench. I went from doing 7 pull-ups in a row to doing 20. I ran 8 miles last week. I started boxing. I lost 4 pounds which doesn’t even make any sense. What is happening???

All I know is I’m excited, and that’s my biggest takeaway: if you want to get in shape, pick whatever workout program you want, as long as it gets you excited. Then do it. Most of them work just fine if you stick with them.

Grade: A+

NYR 19-02: “Get Organized.” Tidy our condo using the KonMari Method by the end of March. Click here for the spreadsheet.

In the first three months of 2019 my wife and I got rid of grizzly bear’s worth of stuff in our condo. And the place looked great, but the question remained. How were things going to look months down the road? Well, here we are… so let’s have a look.

Kitchen cabinets?

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Squared away.

Closet?

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Not too bad!

Let’s walk down the hall to the living room. Things looking good… wait hold on, the stroller’s poking out of the closet. Let me fix that real quick.

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Wait a second… oh no.

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Oh no no no nononononono

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Ok, let me explain.

When we started, this closet was mostly filled with seasonal stuff (Christmas, etc.), all of which had been previously vetted and organized. So we agreed to just leave the closet out of the whole Mari Kondo thing.

But over time… little things started to creep into the closet. Because suddenly we had an out–a 7×5-foot junk drawer–and I’m afraid we used it to avoid a lot of tough decision making.

That being said… I’m really proud of us. We got rid of a lot of stuff and developed some organizational habits that have definitely stuck. And honestly, I just don’t care as much as I thought I would. A little chaos isn’t the end of the world at this stage in our lives.

Grade: B

NYR 19-03: “Drink Less.” Have fewer than 500 drinks in 2019. Click here for the spreadsheet.

272 drinks halfway through the year, on pace for 550 drinks by the end of the year. Not bad, right?

Well… it depends. I did a side-by-side comparison to 2018, and actually I’m only around 14 drinks down from where I was this time last year. Not very promising considering I’m shooting for about a 28% decrease by the end of the year.

So what happened? I was genuinely surprised until I looked at the data month-by month, and saw that I actually drank more this May than last May. The explanation?

This May, I had a bachelor party in Philadelphia, followed by my wife’s birthday celebration in Charleston.

Last May, I had… a child.

Well, technically she was born in April, but as you can imagine we weren’t doing much partying in the first few months following.

So we’ll see how it goes, although 500 is feeling more like a stretch goal at this point.

Grade: C+

NYR 19-04: “Learn A New Language.” Complete the “Head First Guide to HTML/CSS” in 2019. Click here for the spreadsheet.

This one was a lot of fun at first, but lost steam considerably these past few weeks. I used to be clipping along at a solid chapter-a-week pace. Now I’m lucky to get a chapter a month. Part of it is the material is getting more challenging, but I’m worried that another part of it is I’m just not as excited as I was starting off. I’m pretty sure I can finish the book fairly easily by the end of the year, but I’m considering a few ideas to try and light that fire again and will let you know what I come up with.

Grade: B-

NYR 19-05: “Be More Creative.” Start a blog in 2019.

You’re looking at it. I’m happy with how the blog has been going so far. I am also starting to regret the idea of doing a NYR for every single month of the year, resulting in 12 NYR’s which is… a lot. I’m not treading water quite yet but can feel myself getting there. My plan is to do my best to finish strong, and plan to take some time later in the year to re-evaluate.

Grade: A

NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Send 40 emails to my girls in 2019. Click here for the spreadsheet.

This one is going strong based on how it’s being measured (22 messages with almost seven hours of recordings… have fun listening to that, girls!) I do have concerns about how effective this exercise has been toward the greater aim of being a better parent. I do think it’s helped me connect to my girls in some ways, and it does make me think more about what they’re thinking when we’re together.

But there are other times when I feel like my messages are too… routine. I feel like I’m getting into a groove of just telling them what happened over the past week, which is fine but I also want this exercise to be deeper than that. This week specifically, I’ve to leave them a messages when I’m not feeling that great. I’m hoping to give them a full picture, not just of the good times but the bad, in hopes that they might better understand how I handle the bad days (which is not always well, by the way).

Grade: B

So that’s where we are. New series starts next week, which by the way is going to be the weirdest one yet. See you then!

NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Part 4: Bedtime.

It’s a cliche, right? When your kid is born, there’s this pivotal moment when they first wrap their tiny hand around your finger. Your heart melts, and in an instant you feel an unbreakable bond with this baby that can barely open its eyes.

But come on, is that really how it goes down?

Yup.

Well for me, at least. I can remember this exact moment with both my girls. And I’m grateful for that – I know it’s not like that for everybody. But I will make one slight modification:

For me, the moment my daughters won me over wasn’t when they grabbed my hand. It was when I tried to take my hand away, and they tightened their grip.

And now this is what I’m dealing with:

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It’s crazy to think of the number of ways bedtime has changed over the past three years. I remember the first night when our family grew from two to three; I was lying on the couch in the hospital, staring at my daughter through the clear bassinet while she slept. It was dark; aside from the faint glow of the hospital equipment the only light I could see was a thin fluorescent line coming through under the door to our room from the hallway.

Still, I could make out the newest member of our family. Tightly swaddled (not by me, my swaddle game was pretty weak in the early days), I remember watching her lying on her back, motionless at first. Then she began gently raising her toes and her head, then relaxing flat again, starting her first day off right with a few baby-crunches. I was happy and relieved and wondering what I was supposed to do when she woke up.

Since then bedtime has changed more times than I can remember. I remember pacing the floors of our condo in the wee hours trying to do the “5 S’s”, taking her out on the balcony, putting her in the Baldwin Bassinet, then the mamaRoo, then the Rock n’ Play, then the Pack n’ Play… hell she even slept on the Lay n’ Play once.

And finally, the crib.

The crib is when I start to remember the details. That’s when she started to fumble around with the pages of Giraffes Can’t Dance. That’s when she grew hair, hair that smelled so good after a bath as I rocked her, singing to her until she buried her face in my shoulder. Then she’d start snoring, and I’d try to get up from the glider without her feeling anything, hoping she’d float in my arms like a cloud to the crib mattress below.

Then she got bigger. We had to lower the crib mattress, which made things way more difficult. I always felt like I had to make a choice to either 1) drop her a few inches above the mattress and hope the bouncy landing didn’t wake her up, or 2) risk ending up like this lady.

And the worst part? Every time I leaned over to put her in the crib, she would suddenly latch onto me like a koala bear.

Or maybe that was the best part.

I wish I saw it that way every time. I wish that, as I pried her tiny arms off my neck, I would remember the day I was prying her tiny fingers off my hand in the hospital, and be grateful.

But I don’t always feel that way. Especially these days, now that bedtime involves two girls who have both figured out how to stretch out every single step of the the process from bath time to brushing teeth to pajamas to reading to getting in the bed to actually going to bed. And it’s easy to become jaded when all you want is to just have an hour to yourself, maybe hang out with your wife before you crash and do it all over again the next day.

Well I have good news, I guess. That crib/koala problem? That’s over. Because my oldest is in a big girl bed now.

I’ll never put her in a crib again.

And that’s what I need to remember. With all the things I complain about, there are other things I’m going to miss. I need to be present and try to enjoy them.

Easy to write, hard to do.

But I have to try –  because she’s growing up so fast, and although I have an equally adorably one-year-old waiting in the wings who does plenty of her own cute stuff to keep me occupied, she’s growing up too (even faster, I think).

They all grow up. That’s the goal.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I can “Be A Better Parent.” But now I’m thinking I should rephrase the goal. I don’t want to be a better parent; I want to enjoy parenting more.

So maybe the next time one of my girls tightens her grip, I’ll let her hold on a little longer. For both of us.

NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Part 3 – Dad Guilt.

My wife gave me this a while back:

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And on some days, it’s my favorite coffee mug. I’ll even pull it out of a dirty dishwasher and hand wash it just so I can use it that morning.

If I feel like I did something awesome that morning or the day before, I gotta go with the “Best Dad Ever” mug. Maybe I was able to clean the girls room before they went to bed (because as we all know, once the girls are down their room becomes an impenetrable fortress, and going in there for any reason other than to get them back down is strictly forbidden). Or maybe they just slept through the night and I’m somehow taking credit for that. Maybe we went on a big outing that wasn’t a total disaster, or maybe we’re just making waffles.

On those days, I love this mug. But there are other days when I don’t like it at all.

Because some days I don’t feel like the best dad ever.

My wife was the one who suggested I write a post about “Dad Guilt.” “Mom Guilt” certainly gets more press (when I Googled “Mom Guilt” I got 567 thousand results, “Dad Guilt” got closer to 10 thousand). And to be fair, I think Mom Guilt can encompass a broader range of issues. After all, moms are the ones who actually have the baby and everything that goes along with that, and there are a host of other challenges that women face that can contribute to Mom Guilt (postpartum depression, traditional gender roles and income disparity, to name a few).

Respectfully, I’d like to side-step those issues for today’s post and stick to what I know, which is this: I’m a dad, and sometimes I feel guilty about falling short in that role.

Most of the things I feel guilty about fall into a few, broad categories:

Prioritizing convenience for me over experience for them.

I remember coming back to work shortly after my first daughter was born, and talking with a co-worker of mine about the challenges of having a newborn at home. An empty-nester herself, she gave me the following advice:

Keep them dry, keep them fed, and don’t worry about keeping the house clean. It’s been years since my kids left; my house is spotless now, but I’d give anything to have my babies here making a mess again.

And the thing is, I know she’s right. I know that kids are messy, that they’re supposed to be messy and that this is a relatively short window in my life and I should focus on embracing it and being present.

But I don’t always do that. Sometimes, a lot of times, I’m working or doing dishes or putting away laundry instead of playing with my kids. And worse, sometimes I choose activities for my kids based on how convenient they will be for me, as opposed to how stimulating it might be for them. My wife made a “sensory bin” for the girls which they love, but when they play with it they usually make a big mess. I almost never get the sensory bin out for that exact reason.

Also, we live in a condo. It’s a tight fit, and I know I should be trying to get my girls out of the house whenever I can. But sometimes I just don’t. Going outside is a whole thing, and parking them in front of the TV is easier and allows me to get some work done. It’s nice to have my to-do’s checked off at the end of the day, but when I think back to how I accomplished that it often feels like lazy parenting.

Working late

I usually take the bus home. Often I’ll be faced with a decision in the late afternoon to either shut down my computer and catch the bus, or keep working and catch the next one, with the understanding that if I wait for the next one I won’t see my kids until tomorrow morning.

The thing is, I don’t feel guilty about having to stay late to do work every once in a while. Things happen, and sometimes the work I do is time-sensitive and things just need to get done. Paying bills, after all, is a big part of being a parent.

But I really feel guilty on the days when I procrastinated at work, and now I’m faced with a task that needs to get done by the end of the day, a task that I could have started earlier. I’ve definitely missed a few bedtimes because I just didn’t prioritize correctly, and that’s a bummer.

Not wanting to be with them

This is probably the saddest one and also the most difficult to articulate. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like hanging out with my kids.

I can feel incredibly guilty about this. We’ll be doing something that, on the surface, should be a beautiful family moment and I’m just not there. Maybe I’m annoyed about something at work or at home or maybe I’m just really tired.

Or maybe I’m just really mad at my kids. Because that happens. And it sounds so silly getting mad at a two year old whose been arguing with you for fifteen minutes about how she wants her banana peeled but man, in the moment when they’re crying non-stop about absolutely nothing and you’ve tried everything and don’t know what to do you can get really, really mad!

I remember the first time I ever yelled at my daughter, just straight up yelled at her. And I remember she smiled at me at first, thinking it was just another one of our jokes. But I didn’t smile back; her smile faded and she started to cry, and it makes me feel terrible just thinking about it.

Solutions?

I dunno. I usually try to end these on a positive note but the reality is that Dad Guilt is a thing and it sucks.

And I don’t think that feeling bad about making mistakes is, in itself, a bad thing – especially if it motivates us to improve.

I guess the best “solution” I can think of is this: if you’ve identified an area where you want to improve, take a minute to pause and detach. Try to study it objectively (getting feedback from a spouse can help with this) and come up with a plan to do better. Then do it.

And then forgive yourself.