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Am I Listening?

Am I Listening?

When a bad day is just that.

This past week has been – what’s the word – challenging. Everything seemed too much on one particular day. There wasn’t any major thing, but I believe one thing just tipped the scales. And that’s all it took. My patience was thin. I was unable to focus. The only positive was that I recognized my struggle on that day. I knew my ability to handle things or simply focus on writing or parenting was severely limited. Marshall was also having a particularly rough day emotionally, which in a way helped me to focus on him. Not always, but some, at least.

I still played some board games with the kids. I still helped with school and getting things done around the house. But, the day just felt different, you know? My world was fractured on that day – and I knew I needed Meghan’s support. My inability to do much was just on this sensory overload, but I am eternally grateful for Meghan’s ability to understand and reassure me that everyone is allowed to have bad days. I am so thankful for her. And the kids, what can I say? They’re handling this stay at home stuff far better than Meghan and me. They’re rock stars for sure! They have this positive energy that I’ve been trying to replicate. If they seem to be struggling, I put out that same vibe to them to brighten their day – or at least I try to.

I don’t know if any of my words matter.

Why am I writing this today? Does it even matter? Honestly, I don’t know. The one thing I do know to be true is this: my family is everything. I will do everything to ensure they receive the same level of support that they constantly give me. Communication is a paramount tool for families to work. I work on this frequently, to ensure my kids understand that they have mommy and daddy for anything they need. Sitting down together, talking about what’s bothering us, it’s something I want as a staple in our household. Having that helped me cope with this overwhelming mental fatigue I felt on that day. Talking with Meghan. Talking with the kids. It helped. Did it instantly reset my bad brain day? No, but looking at everything knowing they were there for me was extremely important.

Simple compassion and understanding was what I needed and what I received. I think we all need that semblance of grace offered on a daily basis. More and more it seems like the complete opposite is coming true. The world seems like a twisted reality, and although there are good people in this world, it feels like those who twist their words do so only to benefit themselves. Whether it be our leaders or some random person wanting to spout nasty things online, there seem to be many who don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

Does anyone else feel this way?

The past few months have just been building with stress and worrying hopelessness, because fear is sometimes hard to escape. It is true that we can only control what we can control. I use that mantra to help me focus on what’s important. But, when those who are meant to lead and protect seem ultimately dissatisfied with how that infringes on their ability to make money, it’s frightening. Do I completely understand how difficult this situation is for small business owners, farmers, or any organization trying to survive financially in these awful times?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

I have absolutely no idea how anyone else is dealing with this chaos, unless someone talks to me about it. Then I have a better understanding. So, let’s take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. I’m just a parent expressing his darkest fears, while also hoping to share how my family works. So, communication and having sympathetic ears to lean on are extremely valuable. This whole running a parenting blog isn’t meant to be flawless. It’s anything but that – and that’s the point. If I had all the answers: 1) we’d be loaded! 2) our family would be living it up (stay home style) and donating a heck of a lot of money to all those healthcare workers. My sister is currently training to be an EMT. My sister-in-law is a nurse. The courage to continue these endeavors is beyond my comprehension at times.

There’s hope in that, right?

Seeing others do tremendously brave things is awe-inspiring. Does it completely wash away those mental funks any of us get in? No, but it gives me hope that there are people willing to do what they can to help others. I wish I were in a better position financially to donate money to provide hospitals with supplies, or donate to small businesses that are absolutely important to our community and this country. Unfortunately, all I have is a tiny voice whose only hope is to try and make a sliver of a difference for anyone who might need to hear my words. The world is tough. We seem to be living George Orwell’s 1984 and if that doesn’t terrify you to the core – well, maybe I’m being overly dramatic. Perhaps seeing politicians talk openly about acceptable death tolls to reopen the economy isn’t as dire as I imagine.

[insert cricket sounds here, please]

Oh, right, those words you might need to hear. Hmm, perhaps I’m just complaining and surrendering to the ultimate void that my headspace sometimes falls into. Perhaps there is no hope. Perhaps good does not triumph over evil. Maybe my bad day is just what it is – just a bad day. Maybe no one else cares that I’m afraid. On those days, when the world seems to be too much, maybe the only thing that matters are the friends and family who I hold so much love for. Whenever this is all said and done, I know that one thing will not change. Living a life that my kids will find some joy in is the most valuable thing I can do as a person right now. Those beautiful little creatures are the best thing Meghan and I could ever hope to make in this world.

Encouraging words are coming. I promise. I think.

What should we all take away from this? We all have loved ones. We all have people that we adore beyond any words to appropriately describe. Love. Hope. Compassion. We all feel that for those we hold closest. In these dark times, I think it’s important that we all try to find those same feelings for our neighbors, strangers, and people we will never meet in our lives. If we can feel something for someone we’ve never met, won’t that make life easier? Won’t we be able to identify that this entire pandemic is fundamentally affecting all of us? In that very sense, don’t we want to see everyone make it through this in one piece?

Yes, I can already hear the sarcastic jokes ready to banter that comment, but in all seriousness, if you can imagine some compassion for someone else you don’t know, can we make that feeling permanent? Is there a way to avoid mental hurdles? I don’t know. Is there a way for open communication to help those difficult days? Absolutely. So, why don’t we apply the same tactic for what we’re going through right now? Let’s talk to each other, not at one another. Let’s listen to someone else’s feelings, not dismiss them because fear or uncertainty guides their voice. If we do that, aren’t we making this country what it should be? One united together. If we understand each other a little better, maybe that will help someone else’s footsteps become a little lighter.

Wouldn’t it be special if we learned to appreciate someone else’s hopes and dreams through all of this?

I imagine what living a life without fear looks like. I don’t just mean this whole parenting during a pandemic thing. Fear has always been a part of my DNA structure for some reason. Since I was a kid, the world has just been this giant scary place where I’ve tried to maneuver in a way where I don’t get crushed by the uncertainty.

So, why does it really matter what I’m saying? I’m hoping you’ll tell me. I’m hoping you’ll share your thoughts and fears with me. Maybe in all of this, we’ll be able to look at each other in a way that leans more on sympathy and less on “you don’t think the same thing so why should I listen?” I mean, if you’re listening to me at this point, why not go a little further? Think about what someone else is feeling right now. I had one supremely bad day where I could not cope with being a parent and I struggled to put anything together that resembled me normally. But, I tried. I still spoke to my kids when they were having a bad moment. And I sat down to play games with Marshall and Adelaide.

I tried.

So, I guess all I’m asking anyone to do is to try. Be present when someone needs help. Listen when someone is frustrated, even if it means you’re listening to someone who doesn’t support the same football team you do. Sports metaphors are easy to understand, right? So, say New York Giants fans sit down with New York Jets fans to say which team is best. Is there going to be a heated discussion? I can only imagine – YES! But wouldn’t they want the chance to sit down, have a beer, and talk about it? I would hope so. If anything, fans get a chance to remember amazing moments in their team’s history, and compare notes, so to speak. In all that discourse, there will be different things to celebrate. Maybe throughout all of that, they learn that one Giants fan has kids, while a Jets fan recently got engaged.

How will we learn anything about anyone if we don’t try?

Isn’t it worth discovering who a person is and what they might be dealing with, rather than assume they’re against you or wouldn’t possibly understand? I’m not perfect. I’ve been ranting on for about 1,700 words right now and I’m pretty sure the only competent thing I’ve said to this point is to try communication. The main thing to understand is that communication isn’t just about talking. Communication is actively listening, too. Here: I’ll stop for a second to hear if any of you are telling me to shut the hell up.

[SHUT UP!]

Thanks, Meghan.

So, who would be willing to sit down and listen to someone else? You might ask, how would I sit down and listen to someone else while we’re stuck at home in a pandemic? Well, what better use can there be of Twitter, Facebook, Zoom, or any other social media right now? There are plenty of people we truly don’t know out there. Seek them out. Start a conversation. Maybe you follow your favorite actors on Twitter and you’re following a specific tweet from that star. Hop on and read people’s comments. If someone tells you Iron Man is not one of the greatest in the MCU, then calmly and politely jump into the conversation to tell them they’re wrong.

I kid, but, seriously, pretend you’re sitting right next to the person.

How would you want someone to talk to you?

Isn’t that how we all should talk to people, whether in-person or online? Maybe we’ve forgotten the simplicity of, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I know we’re all mature enough to handle a simple conversation of ranking movies or greatest rock bands or whatever. As long as we understand that what we feel is what we feel. It doesn’t mean we have to feel the same way as someone else, as long as we know someone else’s views don’t necessarily change how we see things. But, maybe we’ll understand their position to why said film isn’t one of the greatest in the MCU. I can’t see it, right now. If you share your thoughts, respectfully, then why wouldn’t I listen?

In all of this, regardless of sports fans or Marvel movies fans coming together to have an open discussion, this simple example can be used for anything. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to someone else’s point of view? Is it because we’re afraid of what the other person might have to say or are we afraid of change? If I believe Iron Man is the best, will I lose something if someone else possibly sways me away from that thought? Not even a little bit. We need to stop focusing on being right or feeling absolute in our positions, because that’s when our kids will start to emulate such a rigid stance.

I want to be better for my kids.

When I have tough days where life seems too hard, I think about what I want for them. When Marshall is upset because he’s having a bad day listening to directions or breaking the rules, I think about what he might be thinking. So, when he gets upset about still being hungry after having a snack, do I scream and shout because he’s not listening to me telling him snack time is over? Or do I sit down with him to calm him down and listen to his perspective?

Little dude was hungry and probably going through a monster growth spurt. So, I said, “Being hungry is pretty tough. I bet it’s hard to think about anything else when you’re so hungry.” After saying this, he looked at me in a way that made him realize I understood what he was feeling. We talked for a few minutes and I told him I appreciated him using his words. He used his voice to tell me he just didn’t know what else to do because he was so hungry. I tried. I listened. Then, more food was had.

When I was a kid, and especially as a teenager, it was often felt where food just didn’t satisfy that hunger. If you can imagine growing four or five inches in one summer, my hunger through many years seemed similar to the food and energy required to grow that much in such a short span. So, I understood my son, because I sat down and empathized with his feelings. That’s what I want for my kids. To be a better parent by listening to them more often each and every day. My hope is that by them talking more often, they’ll hopefully be better prepared to deal with these mental funks I have.

Hope.

I hope this long ramble makes sense to you. I hope my feelings aren’t useless. There’s hope that my thoughts will find some relatable understanding for anyone and everyone out there. Hoping to find things to sit down and talk about, without any preconceived notions, is what I hope for – and not just for our country, but for the world. Wouldn’t that be great? If we all did a better job at being open to better communication. Remember, if it’s even remotely possible to lend an ear to those we don’t know, like we would with our loved ones, then this article will have done its job. I needed my wife and kids when I was struggling for one day. We’ve all been struggling for months.

Let that sink in. We’ve all been struggling. If we can understand that, even on the smallest of levels, then we might be better suited to come together in the future. Much like the love I have for my family, I want nothing more than the people I call friends to have that same feeling. I want that same thing for people I’ve never met. I want everyone to have a support system they can turn to when they’re feeling down. That’s why reaching out to people online isn’t a bad thing. It’s not a weakness. There’s strength in understanding our own fears and learning how other people cope. If we can all help each other cope, then maybe this whole thing won’t be as scary anymore.

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