A Clone of My Own

Clone of My OwnWith advances in technology, some people are dreading the arrival of human cloning.  Not me, though.  I welcome it.  After all, there is too much that I want and need to get done and too little TechyDad to go around.

My first clone’s job would be my day job.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living, but working 40 hours a week is a massive time sink.  There are so many other things I could do with that time, but then there’s the pesky issue of needing money to pay for stuff.  So Clone #1 would get to go to work while I stayed home.

Staying at home isn’t quite so simple, though.  There is always an errand or three to run.  Plus, there are home repairs to do.  Also, despite my best efforts, there’s somehow always some mess to clean up somewhere in the house (usually toy-related).  So I’ll need Clones 2, 3, and 4 for those.    Maybe 5 and 6 also.

I’d also like to spend more time with my wife.  Go out to dinner more.  See movies more.  Have date nights more often.  So I’ll need a clone for that.  Then again, there are often movies that I want to see which my wife has no interest in.  So add a clone in for that one.  Better make it two – I hate going to the movies alone.

I’d love to spend more time playing with the kids, but they often want to play different things.  Let’s add a pair of clones so they can each get their own personal dad.

Finally, I’d like to have more time to code personal projects (like FollowerHQ), so let’s add a clone for that.  Then there’s the novel idea I had… Oh, and the techy home projects I thought of but never got around to completing.  So add in two or three more clones.

What are we up to now?  About 14 or 15 clones?  Boy, this house is getting a bit crowded.  Not to mention that I’m going to need a few extra clones to find new jobs to pay to feed and clothe all of these clones.  They might all be me, but they are also probably more trouble then they’re worth.  Besides, with all of these clones doing everything that I want to do and need to do, what will I do?  Sit on the couch watching TV?  Now that I think about it, I’ll abandon Project Techy-Clone.  Sure, my life may be hectic.  Sure, I might not be able to get everything done that I want to do.  It’s my life, though, and I’m going to enjoy it!

Tantrums, Glaring Eyes, and Baby Bans

The other day, while shopping, JSL declared that he was thirsty.  We hadn’t brought any water and the store was remodeling where their water fountains usually are, so I asked him to be patient while we shopped and we would buy him a drink at the end.  He was good as we walked through the store and bought our various items.  As we neared the checkout line, however, he began to melt down.

Knowing that he had been thirsty for awhile, that he had walked quite a bit, and that he was probably hungry to boot (it was approaching lunchtime), I took the boys to the store’s little built-in snack shop while B paid for our items.  There was a convenient display of bottled waters, so I picked one up and got in line.  The plan was simple: Pay the 67 cents for the water and give the kids a drink.  There were only 2 people in front of me, so it seemed completely doable.

I’m not sure what was going on at the register, but whatever it was was taking a long time.  (Or, as JSL would say: “It’s taking FOR-EV-ER!”)  I fiddled with the dollar I was going to use while the person behind the register just sat there not ringing up anyone.  The boys began to get restless.  I tried to give them something to look forward to by offering to let them pay for the water.  Unfortunately, this backfired as they each claimed the dollar as theirs to give to the cashier.  I finally had to take it back.

After a few more minutes of fighting and complaining, NHL declared that he was bored and I shouldn’t bore him.  By this point, I was at the end of my rope and sternly/sarcastically told him “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that I was supposed to entertain you 24/7!  Now stand still and be GOOD!”  I could feel the eyes of everyone in line behind me resting on me, judging me for my kids’ actions and my reaction.  Call it paranoia left over from high school, but I felt like everyone on that line was silently saying what an awful parent I was.

Luckily, by that point, B was done paying.  We hadn’t moved at all and there was no sign we would move anytime soon.  I put the water bottle away, pocketed the money and left with B and the boys.  We drove to a nearby restaurant where we had a lovely lunch and, yes, plenty of water.

Before I had kids, I might have glared at a parent whose kids weren’t totally well behaved.  I would have naively declared that MY kids would know how to behave and would ALWAYS behave properly.  Presumably, because these perfectly-behaved kids would be entertained by the abundance of airborne swine.  As usual, we plan the “perfect” scenarios and then life laughs at us and hands us something completely different.

Now, I’m not very judgmental.  During another outing, I took the boys out for ice cream.  As we sat waiting for our treat, a couple seated next to us was dealing with their crying baby (approximately 18 months old).  Had I been that “perfectly well behaved kids” pre-parent, I would have rolled my eyes at their failure to “control” her.  Instead, when NHL and JSL pointed out how noisy she was being, I told them that they made plenty of noise when they were that age.  Babies make noise.  It’s a fact of life.

Some institutions have taken to banning children.  In some cases, I can see the rationale.  No parent should take their young child to a scary movie at 9pm at night.  Still, while parents can take some measures to mitigate incidents, sometimes public meltdowns aren’t avoidable.  A single mother with no-one to babysit will need to take her child to the store.  A family going on vacation via airplane can plan for the trip, but kids might not react well to the circumstances.  In these instances, parents shouldn’t be confronted with glaring glances and whispered criticisms.  They have their hands full enough as it is.

Have you ever encountered critical reactions while you were out with your children?  Has your perspective changed from your pre-parent days?

NHL and the Poultry Based Curse

While the rest of the world watches a young wizard battle against a dark lord who tosses about curses such as Avada Kedavra, Crucio, and Imperio, we’ll be dealing with some curses of our own from NHL.  No, NHL’s not trying to hit us with the killing curse.  He’s tossing chickens around instead.

Apparently, a few weeks back, NHL was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Channel.  During the episode, Goofy asked Mickey, “Guess what?”  Mickey said “What?” to which Goofy replied “Chicken Butt!”  That’s all NHL needed.  We began hearing “chicken butt” over and over again.

After a few warnings, NHL stopped.  He didn’t say “chicken butt” anymore.  Instead, he just said “chicken.”  Yes, he technically wasn’t using potty talk.  But still, we felt that we couldn’t let him skirt the system like this.

I’ve got to admit that I’ve been dreading this moment for awhile now.  You see, I’m a bit of a freak in that I don’t curse.  Ever.  Ok, there was that one time while my friend was driving and I tried to get a reaction out of him by saying the worst curse I knew.  (Hint: It rhymes with bundt.)  Fun fact: Hearing someone who never curses say that word at a random moment is liable to make a person almost veer off the road.

Anyway, it’s true.  I don’t curse.  When I get angry, I might grumble a bit, but I don’t let out any obscenities.  No f–k, s—t or b—h for me.  Not even a d–n.  The closest I might come is echoing a curse that was used on Farscape: frell.  Frell was Farscape’s way of both coming up with an alien obscenity and of skirting around actually using curses.  I use it to similar effect but mostly under my breath.  (Man, I’m geeky even in my non-cursing cursing.)

B, on the other hand, grew up watching hockey games.  And not just watching, but attending them.  Right behind the bench.  Hockey players don’t exactly have clean vocabularies.  In fact, apparently they let loose some verbiage that would make sailors blush.  She learned quite a few phrases (in some different languages).  As a teacher, she had to suppress her natural inclination towards colorful language.  Saying a–h–e to a student is a good way to get fired.  At home, however, with the boys stressing her out constantly, it becomes very easy to slip.

In addition to B’s occasional slip-ups, NHL hears colorful language from kids in school.  It’s inevitable that he’ll come home and let loose with an f-bomb, an s-word or some other major obscenity.  I guess I should treasure these moments when “chicken butt” is the worst he can come up with.

Still, he’ll get in trouble if he says it again.

I said I’d treasure it, not tolerate it!

A Kid’s Eye View of Marriage

For some reason, JSL has been fixated on marriage recently.  We live in New York so it is possible that he picked up rumblings of what was going on here recently.  Of course, from the eyes of a four year old, the concept of marriage gets distorted slightly, but to humorous effect.

JSL once asked me why I married B.  I replied that I loved her very much.  That was both the right answer and the wrong one.  It was the right answer because, well, it’s true.  I love B more than words can express.  I did so when I proposed to her (aka “squashing bugs” since I nearly went down on one knee where a bunch of ants were congregating).  I still do.  It’s the wrong answer because JSL, being a four year old, is naive of the various kinds of love and the behaviors that one engages in when involved in those kinds of love.

All JSL knows is the love of a father/mother/brother.  (I’d add in grandparents, uncles, aunts, great-grandparents, etc, but you get point.)  To him, this love involves playing games, reading stories, watching TV, eating tasty treats, being silly and many other fun activities.  He’s completely oblivious to the “activities” that a Mommy and a Daddy might partake in to express their love once the kids go to bed.

Recently, he began telling us that he was going to marry various people.  One conversation went something like this:

JSL: “I want to marry you, Daddy.”

Me: “You can’t marry me, JSL.”

JSL: “Why not?”

Me: "Because I’m already married to Mommy.”

JSL: “Oh, ok.  Then I want to marry NHL!”

Me: “You can’t marry your brother.”

JSL: “Then I’m going to marry Mommy!”

At this point, I noted that it was bedtime (in fact, he was already in bed at the time) and he was just delaying going to sleep.  JSL, not one to drop a topic, though, just picked it up again the very next day with B.

JSL: “I’m going to marry you, Mommy!”

B: “You can’t marry me.  I’m married to Daddy.”

JSL: “Oh.  Then I’m going to marry Papa.” (B’s father.)

NHL: “You can’t marry a boy. It’s not allowed!”

B (trying not to get into the complexity of recent developments with a 7 year old and a 4 year old): “Papa’s already married.  To Nana.” (B’s mother.)

JSL continues to try to find someone to marry.  Hopefully, he won’t rush into this too much.  He’s only 4 and has plenty of time to find the person he wants to marry.  Besides, I can’t afford a wedding right now.

Ties and Stereotypical Gifts For Dad

P1030436

This Sunday is Father’s Day.  All over the country, dads will open gifts from their family.  Many of those gifts will be the stereotypical gifts given to dads on Father’s Day.  Tools for grilling, electronics, sporting goods, items emblazoned with a favorite team’s logo and, of course, ties.  However, while ties might be a stereotypical gift, I’ve got to admit that I like them.

I didn’t always like ties, though.  When I was young, I hated having to wear a tie.  I always felt like it was choking me.  I’d put up with it for the bare minimum amount of time that was required and then it would be torn off.  Ties were symbols of stuffy affairs lacking in any fun.  My father, on the other hand, loved ties.  He had quite a few of them too.  We joked that he could wear a different tie each day for an entire year without repeating.  We never really got an accurate count of them, though, as we would lose count somewhere around 400.

For the record, I don’t have 400 or so ties.  The photo on the right (originally from my post titled This Father’s Day, No More Ties!) shows pretty much all of my ties.  Yes, it is a lot, but all of those ties only total about seventy.

My tie collection began small enough.  When I began my current job, I went from completely casual to a job where I needed to wear dress clothes and a tie.  This meant that the one or two ties I owned would not be enough.  I bought a few dressy ties and figured that would be it for awhile.

Little by little, though, I added to my collection.  We went to Disney World and I got a Mickey Mouse tie and a Winnie the Pooh tie.  We went to Boston and I found a vendor selling some humorous ties.  We went to New York City for BlogHer and I got a tie from M&M World.  I found a World Wildlife Fund line of ties that cleverly hid animals in what appeared to be serious ties.  I invested in the Cocktail collection which featured patterns based on alcoholic beverages as seen through a microscope. I indulged in the Jerry Garcia line of ties that were just plain wacky (in a good way).

I’ve also gotten ties from my wife and from my boys.  Whenever something big is happening with my boys, I put on my Sesame Street tie.  Even though NHL has outgrown the exploits of Grover and Cookie Monster, this tie still reminds me of my boys.

Still, I think I’m pretty set tie-wise.  So I really don’t need another one come Sunday.  Those electronics or grilling utensils on the other hand…

Daddy Guilt Over Time For Me

Last weekend, my boys were playing on the floor and I opened the newspaper.  After a couple of minutes, they began asking me to play with them.  My first instinct was to put the paper down and play.  Most times, that is just what I would do.  This time, however, I wanted to spend some time reading the paper.  Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, like I was being an awful father for not dropping everything that I wanted to do in order to cater to what my kids wanted to do.

As that wave of guilt hit, though, I realized something.  I spend a lot of my time catering to other people.  My day job involves writing and debugging web applications for co-workers.  When I get home, I need to get changed in a hurry so I can make dinner for my family.  Most nights, I’ll also take on the role of waiter, giving out the food, drinks of water, seconds on dinner and dessert.  I also take care of bath time and bed time routines, herding the boys through all of the steps needed to get them asleep properly with a minimum of complaining.  With all of this “everyone else time”, wasn’t I due for some “me time”?

I don’t get much time to myself that doesn’t involve sitting behind a computer.  I don’t have any friends or family in the area.  I can’t just grab a few buddies and go see the latest non-Rated G, action-adventure-sci-fi-based-on-a-comic-book movie.  If I’m doing something by myself, it’s probably yard work (involving the lawn mower, the sound of which my boys hate) or grocery shopping on my way home from work.

My life, it seems, can be neatly organized into “Work TechyDad” and “Dad TechyDad.”  At times, it seems as though the “Work” and “Dad” portions of my life overwhelm me.  It seems as though I’m losing any sense of identity beyond those two spheres.  I know that time to myself is important.  After all, constantly feeling like your position in life is that of a combination butler and referee is not healthy.  It leads to stress and stress leads to making bad choices (such as yelling when a calmer tone would have sufficed).

Time away from my family, building an identity that is neither “Work” nor “Dad” but just Me would be very healthy.  It would reduce my stress and make me a better husband and father.  Still, even thinking about spending time apart from my family leaves me feeling guilt-ridden.

Do you spend time away from your family?  If so, do you feel guilty when you aren’t with them?

Handling A Bully Situation

Recently, we needed to deal with a bullying situation in NHL’s school.  A child, with a history of violent acts, punched NHL in the stomach hard enough to send him to the nurse and cause bruising.  The punch was in retaliation for NHL telling the child that he shouldn’t be jumping over people (NHL included) to reach his seat.  Around the same time we were dealing with this, I saw @sociallysmart (Corinne Gregory) post about how many bullying incidents are covered up by schools.

My mind goes back to a story from September.  This dad’s 13 year old daughter who has cerebral palsy was being bullied.  He tried three times to work with the school administration, but they weren’t acting.  So he took matters into his own hands, got on a school bus, and yelled at the bullies.  While it might have felt good to vent at these kids, sadly it probably didn’t do much long term good.  He was arrested and the bullies probably had a nice chuckle at his and his daughter’s expense.

So taking the law into your own hands doesn’t work.  What does work?  How can a dad effectively react if his child is bullied?

Preparation

The best offense might a good defense, but the best reaction against bulling is preparation.  Talk with your child before bulling becomes a problem.  Let them know that you’re there for them no matter what.  Make sure that they realize that they aren’t alone; you are on their side.

Bullies can and will try to set the “rules” for interaction between them and their victims.  These “rules” are stacked in the bully’s favor.  Playing by their rules is about as smart as walking up to the roulette wheel at a Vegas casino and betting everything you have on the number 9.  Yes, you might get lucky and beat the odds, but it’s not the smartest bet you can make.

One of the main “bully rules” is usually “This is between you and me so don’t tell you parents, teachers or anyone else who might help you out.”  (Sometimes, “you and me” is modified to be “you, me and this group of my friends".)  If you reinforce with your child that it is ok to talk with you or your teacher about it and not abide by the bully’s rules, you will be preparing your child well for any future bullying they might encounter.

The Teacher

So your child has just been bullied and talked with you about it.  What do you do?  The first thing you need to do, obviously, is talk with the teacher.  Sit down with him/her, talk about what happened and how both of you can put a stop to this behavior.  Most times, the teacher will be very helpful.  What if he/she isn’t, though?  Or what if they try to be helpful but the problem is out of their control?

The Principal

At this point, move a step higher.  Talk with the principal.  Let them know what happened and what you would like done about it.  Don’t yell, scream, and curse.  Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to be a push-over.  Be clear and calm, but be forceful as well.

What if the principal tries sweeping the whole affair under the rug?

The Superintendent

Time to climb even higher.  Now, it is time to talk with the superintendent.  This person has quite a bit of influence over the other schools.  If the superintendent isn’t happy with how things are going, they *WILL* change.  Explain your case (calmly but firmly) again and work to figure out a plan of action.

What if the superintendent isn’t helping?

To The School Board And Beyond

Go to the school board and complain.  If they don’t help, move on to the Department of Education.  If you get the runaround there, threaten to go to the local media.  Then make good on your threats.  Bullying is a hot topic and a school trying to ignore a bullying situation would make for a nice story.  No school district wants to see their school on the evening news in that context.

Should My Kid Fight Back?

A commenter on my wife’s blog suggested that NHL should have just punched the child and broken his nose.  I won’t begrudge a child fighting back in self-defense.  After all, I wouldn’t want my son to just lie in a fetal position while a bully punches him repeatedly.  Still, kids should know that intentionally fighting to injure will not help.  Yes, some bullies will back down when physically fought against.  However, if your child is weaker than the bully or if the bully has a group of friends, your child will just get beat up and made fun of more.  Besides, having your child attack another child physically will just cause you to lose any leverage you have when complaining to the various school officials.  And, as mentioned before, never ever take it upon yourself to verbally or physically confront the bully.

Has your child been bullied?  If so, how did you react and deal with the situation?

Teaching Lessons From Geeky Lore

This past Sunday, NHL and I were heading to his weekly Hebrew lessons.  As we drove, I began to worry.  You see, it had been a couple of weeks since his last lesson (thanks to Passover) and NHL, while very bright, has a tendency to give up easily if a task seems difficult to him.  He’ll insist that he can’t do it and will complain endlessly, stubbornly refusing to even try, until we wear him down.  Then he’ll grumble as he tries and then will act really surprised when he finds the task easy.

Therefore, I decided to have a talk with him on the way in.  I told him how smart he was and how he should never sell himself short.  He should never say that he can’t do something because he can do anything he sets his mind to.  He said “ok” but somehow I didn’t think the lesson really sunk in.  Sure enough, he began to panic during his lesson.  He insisted that he couldn’t read the Hebrew because he didn’t know any of the letters.  This despite the fact that a) he learned the letters a long time ago and b) he had a sheet with all of the letters and their sounds sitting right next to him.  We got over this hump, but I decided that another talk was needed.

This time I considered my reference material.  I could tell NHL stories of my youth about how I did things that seemed tricky but was able to do it once I tried.  Of course, to a seven year old, stories that take place 10 years ago or more are ancient history.  I could describe projects I work on in my office.  I could tell him how a big web application I’m trying to develop seems impossible when I look at it, but working on it bit by bit leads to it being completed far earlier than I thought it would be.  That might help, but developing websites seems esoteric to a child (even if he uses websites all the time).  Relating to my personal experiences didn’t seem to be helping.  Thinking about it, how often did we roll our eyes at our parents when we were kids and they told us that they went through similar things.

That’s when inspiration struck.  It just so happened that we were holding a party that day.  I had received some toys from Mom Select to use to throw a Green Lantern party.  NHL loves superheroes and was excited about the upcoming party.  I thought about the Green Lantern oath:

In brightest day
In blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power
Green Lantern’s light!

I asked NHL what the Green Lantern would do if he found that beating a bad guy was difficult.  Would he give up and walk away?  NHL answered “No.”  He told me that Green Lantern would keep trying until the villain was defeated.  Then I asked him about Batman.  Would Batman give up?  Of course not, NHL said.  Batman keeps trying until he wins.

I could almost see the light turn on in his head.  Where my personal experiences failed, comic and television references succeeded.  After all, these are characters that he sees everyday.  He sees them encounter difficult situations.  He seems that they could easily give up.  Instead, they keep at it.  They use their minds, bodies, superpowers (if they have any) and all resources at their disposal to overcome and prevail.  Is it a geeky way to teach a life lesson?  Sure.  But it can be an effective one.  (And a method that I’ve used before.)

My Finicky Child’s Passover Hunger Strike

Like many nearly-four year olds, JSL is a very finicky eater.  For lunches and dinners he tends to like only about five or so foods: Macaroni and Cheese, Pizza, Chicken Nuggets, Cream Cheese Sandwiches, Greek Yogurt and maybe a couple more.  Even if you stick to a “JSL approved food”, say pizza, you can still run afoul of JSL’s finickiness.  I make pizza at home and JSL will peel off the cheese and refuse to eat it.  This is despite the fact that JSL loves cheese in general and even likes nibbling on the leftover pizza cheese before it is cooked.

During the year, getting JSL to eat foods outside of his comfort zone can be a challenge.  However, it is currently Passover which means that “challenge” has turned into “impossibility.”  Pasta (as in Mac and Cheese) is a Passover no-no.  Pizza crust can’t be consumed.  The breading on chicken nuggets is forbidden.  Cream cheese sandwiches can be made with matzoh, but it is a poor substitute for bread.

As such, JSL hasn’t been eating much.  During the first Passover seder, JSL ate matzoh balls from matzoh ball soup.  (He didn’t even want the soup.)  When it came time for the meal, he turned his nose up and declared himself full.  (He re-found his appetite when dessert time rolled around.)  The second seder was a repeat of the first.  Three matzoh balls made it to his stomach and nothing else. He even refused chocolate cake… and it was good too, a rarity for Passover desserts.

Yesterday, he refused breakfast and lunch completely.  Even when we made him something he declared that he wanted (yogurt with chocolate sauce and chocolate chip macaroons mixed in), he sat down, put the spoon to his lips and then said “I want something else!”  Just before dinner time, he began whining that he was hungry.  B gave him some American cheese slices (5 in all), but then he refused dinner (potato crusted fish shaped “fish sticks” with quinoa).  I had even served him plain quinoa knowing he’d reject the one with veggies in it.

This morning, JSL woke up, snuggled in our bed and fell back asleep.  When he got up again, he said he didn’t feel good and wound up throwing up on our sheets.  He tossed his cookies again (not that there was anything in his tummy to toss) later that morning.  He seemed to feel better later on and we don’t think he’s sick.  Instead, we think he was just so hungry from rejecting all of his options that he worked himself into a frenzy and all but made himself throw up.

Sadly, Passover isn’t even half over yet.  There are still five more days to go as I write this (Thursday night).  I’m sure that, after Passover has ended, JSL will go back to gorging himself on all of his familiar favorites.  I just hope that, by the end of the matzoh season, B’s and my hair hasn’t turned completely white from the stress of a nearly-four year old on a hunger strike!

So what do you do when your child refuses all breakfast, lunch and dinner options?

Difficult Decisions

When we were children, decisions might have been tricky to make, but there was no real downside.  Did you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?  Should you play with the figures or blocks?   Which cartoon would you watch?  No matter which decision you made, you would still have ice cream, you would still play and you would still be watching cartoons.

At some point, our decisions became more complex.  We began to realize that choosing to do one thing versus the other could have consequences.  Some of these consequences could be serious.  When you become a parent, it can often seem like these decisions present themselves on a daily (if not hourly) basis.

This past week, NHL was sick.  He ran a fever and had to miss his classes as well as after school activities.  He began to get nervous as Wednesday approached.  His class was scheduled to go on a field trip that day and he had been looking forward to it.  The night before the trip he even woke up with nightmares.  Though he wasn’t coherent enough to talk to us about it, we were pretty sure that stress over possibly missing the trip was a major contributing factor.

Wednesday morning came and there was that difficult decision.  NHL hadn’t been fever free for exactly 24 hours, but he seemed to be fine.  He had woken up drenched in sweat so we were hopeful that his fever had broken.  The question became: Do we send him to school or don’t we?  If we send him to school and he comes down with a fever, he’ll have to head home.  Worse, if his fever returned during the field trip, it might complicate matters.  The field trip was nearby and happened to be at another school, but, in the field trip chaos, NHL’s returning fever might not be noticed for awhile.  On the other hand, if we kept him home and his fever didn’t return, we’d feel bad for making him miss the trip.

In the end, our concern over NHL’s well being trumped his desire to go on the class field trip.  We explained to NHL why we were not sending him, but NHL still got upset.  He wanted to go on this field trip and didn’t understand why we were being so unfair not letting him go.

It turned out that our decision was vindicated.  Later that day, NHL opted to take a nap instead of playing math games on the computer (two of his favorite things combined).  When B took his temperature, she saw that it he not only returned, but hit 104.  He made a quick trip to the doctor’s office and is well on the way to a full recovery.  Still, the “do we send him or don’t we” decision made me long for the days when decisions were simple and had little to no downside.

Have you had to make any difficult decisions recently?  Ones where it didn’t seem like any of your choices were ideal?

Disney Dad

Last week, we headed to Disney World so my wife could attend the Disney Social Media Moms conference.  While she attended sessions to learn how better to utilize social media, I was left alone with my boys… and three park hopper Disney World tickets.

Our first day together, we headed to Epcot to go character hunting.  It also happens to be Epcot’s annual International Flower and Garden Festival.  We travelled from country to country.  We took photos of topiaries.  We waited on lines to greet characters.  We also explored the details and shops that the countries had to offer.  (At one point, I even turned a UK-style phone booth into a Twitter experiment.  (Thanks for making it a success and it was great talking to you moth_editor!)

The next day, we headed to the Magic Kingdom with plans to ride some rides that tend to get long lines.  We started on Dumbo, moved on to Small World, took in the new and improved line for the Winnie the Pooh ride and then headed off to fly on Aladdin’s Magic Carpet.

At some point during this time, I realized something.  I wasn’t live-tweeting the experience.  Sure, I was sending out a tweet here and there, but nowhere near what I could be doing.  The importance of tweeting diminished and I found myself living in the moment with my boys.  I enjoyed each outburst of excitement.  The joyous runs towards characters with their autograph book and pen in hand.  The screams of joy as they ran through a hedge maze after each other.  The enjoyment on their faces as we soared above the clouds atop a flying elephant.

During this time, we formed memories that will last for years to come.  Yes, there are pictures to share.  Videos, too.  They will have to wait for another day, though.  And they will be shown to my sons to help keep those wonderful memories as fresh as the day they were formed.

The Importance Of Room To Play

When we purchased our house, we turned the upstairs room into a combination playroom and computer room.  We had many good days playing with baby NHL there.  When he got older and his baby brother was born, though, going up the stairs (which are perilously steep) became harder and harder to do safely.  Since it wasn’t being actively used, we began to use the room for storage.  Have a box we need to find a place for?  Put it upstairs for now.  Is there a toy that NHL’s outgrown?  Put it upstairs until we decide what to do with it.  The room slowly morphed from play room to storage area.

Fast forward a few years.  NHL has been joined by his brother, JSL.  Though many of their toys reside in their own room, the living room has been drafted into the new “play room.”  Toys threaten to overwhelm it no matter how many times we clean it up.  The boys love playing together and separately, but our house isn’t exactly large.  If the two boys want to play different activities, one is bound to encroach on the other’s space.  Encroachment leads to fights and fights lead parental intervention.  Everybody loses.

In the warmer months, this isn’t as big of a problem.  The boys can play outside to get space.  The winter means we can’t let the boys play outside for long (or at all some days).  Play has to be done indoors which makes our tight quarters seem even tighter.

Many times we resolved to clean up the play room, but other matters kept coming up.  Still, this time we decided it had to be done.  The former play room was far too big of a space to allow it to fester.  So we cleaned up a small space for the boys to play in while we worked on the rest of the room.  Over a few weekends, we went through long-forgotten piles of papers and mementos from trips past.  We organized items, put them away, threw out what we didn’t need and occasionally marveled at a forgotten treasure recovered.

Slowly but surely, the small play space expanded.  A crowded circle surrounded by piles to process became a clean room filled with toys.  The cleaning isn’t done just yet.  Old computer equipment needs to be disposed of or given away.  Toys which have been outgrown need to find a new home.  And papers with sensitive information await shredding.

Still, the results are already apparent.  The boys love their new play area and ask to go there any chance they get.  They can play together or apart and not get in each other’s way.  They can watch videos (we don’t have cable TV hooked up there), play with toys or go on the computer (if we bring one of our laptops upstairs).  JSL has had a picnic on a blanket while watching a movie and the boys have rediscovered toys that were long forgotten (or never played with).  They have room to play.  Room to have fun.  The smiles on their faces are worth all the work we put into the room.

Fabulous Film Fathers

With the snow and cold weather out, my boys and I have been taking advantage of Netflix and our local library to watch some movies.  I’ve noticed a couple that showed some good examples of fatherhood.  Just a warning: Spoilers Be Ahead.  If you haven’t seen Despicable me or Shrek Forever After yet, you might want to bookmark this article and come back later.  Otherwise, dive on in.

Despicable Me

The main character, Gru, is a villain.  He’s first introduced noticing a little boy crying over a dropped ice cream cone.  He cheers up the boy by crafting a balloon animal… and then shows his true colors as he pops it making the boy sadder than he was to begin with.  Not quite your ideal father figure, right?  Especially when his motive for adopting three girls is to gain access to another villains lair so he can steal a shrink ray that he plans on using to steal the Moon.

In flashbacks, we are shown Gru constantly trying to please his mother to no avail.  He says he’d like to go to the Moon.  She responds by telling him they stopped sending up monkeys.  He shows a spaceship design, she dismisses it.  Even a working model fails to impress her.  He hasn’t exactly grown up learning how to be a loving parent.

As his plans for stealing the Moon progress, the girls pry open Gru’s cold heart.  He supports them against a carnival worker who tries to cheat them out of a prize.  (In typical villain fashion, he trades the baseball to be thrown with a giant plasma cannon.)  He finds the girls becoming less of a chore and annoyance that get in the way of what he really wants (stealing the Moon) and more of an experience that he looks forward to.  The movie leaves open the question as to whether he has turned completely from his villainous ways and become a hero.  In any event, he is definitely a good father in the end, gladly giving up his stolen prize to save his girls and then risking his life to save them.

This movie shows how parents often find themselves at conflict between what they wanted to do before having children and what they want to do after having kids.  Your priorities shift and things that previously seemed like the most important things in the world fall to the wayside.  Other activities that would previously make you want to run away screaming turn out to be the happiest times of your life.

Shrek Forever After

Shrek has definitely undergone a lot of changes in the four movies he has appeared in.  In the first movie, he fell in love.  In the second, he learns to love himself.  In the third, he comes to grips with his impending fatherhood.  In the fourth film, Shrek is shown to be living the hectic life of a parent.  And a famous one no less.  Every day is the same routine over and over and over again.  Every quiet moment he gets to himself is interrupted by someone or something.  He can’t even go to the bathroom in peace without a local tour group pointing out his potty activities.

By the time the triplet’s’ first birthday party rolls around, he is a raw bundle of nerves.  (Not so good for any parent, even worse for an ogre parent.)  He blows up at the party and storms away.  At this moment, Rumpelstiltskin steps in.  He offers Shrek one day of freedom.  Just one day where he doesn’t need to worry about being a husband and father.  He can go back to his old life for 24 hours.  The offer sounds glorious but, even in his at-wit’s-end state, Shrek senses a catch.  The catch is that Rumpelstiltskin will take one day from Shrek’s past.  A day from his childhood that he wouldn’t even remember.  Shrek signs the contract.

Suddenly, his world is turned upside down.  Shrek finds himself a feared, single ogre again.  He’s able to terrify villagers and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  But his happy romp takes a terrifying turn when he sees his home deserted (in fact, it looks like it was never occupied at all) and he is captured.  Donkey doesn’t remember him at all.  It turns out that Rumpelstiltskin’s taken day was the day Shrek was born.  This means he never existed, never rescued Fiona and never became a father.  Once his 24 hours of freedom are up, Shrek will fade away and this topsy-turvy world (where Rumpelstiltskin rules instead of being a vagabond) will be cemented in place.  This only chance to get out of the contract is to find Fiona and share True Love’s Kiss before his time runs out.

What follows is a series of desperate attempts by Shrek to find Fiona and get her to fall in love with him.  At one point, she even kisses Shrek but it has no effect.  Shrek realizes that, in this reality, she never fell in love with him.  Simply being there isn’t enough.  He needs to take an interest in her and support her to get her to love him once more.

The lesson here is twofold.  First off, being a parent can be stressful.  Any parent who tells you that they never feel any stress at all as they raise their kids is lying.  There will be times when you wish that you could just run off for a day and forget about being married with children.  But even in these darkest times, a parent will still love their kids.  They might want some time for themselves, but they would never truly wish for their kids to vanish completely.

The key is small doses of “kid freedom.”  Go on a date night with your spouse while the kids are with a trusted friend/relative/babysitter.  Have your spouse watch the kids while you run some errands alone.  Or have your spouse run the errands while you stay home alone and enjoy some solitude.  These little breaks will help keep you from an ogre-sized blow up.

The second lesson here doesn’t involve the kids as much as it involves the parents.  You can’t simply just “show up” and expect that your spouse will stay in love with you because you are you.  You need to constantly work on making your spouse fall in love with you all over again.  This can be with a previously mentioned date night or kid-break-period.  It could also be simply listening to your spouse when they are talking about something that interests them even if your couldn’t care less.  The little things can build up and help to strengthen a marriage.  And a healthy, happy marriage can lead to healthy, happy parenting.

Commercial Interruption

For the longest time, NHL’s television watching habits were blissfully commercial free.  He would watch DVDs, kids channels (where the only commercials were for their own shows) or DVRed shows (commercials quickly skipped by).  As he’s gotten older, though, he’s come to notice those little bits of advertisement.  I’d like to announce that my savvy son has realized that these are just crass attempts to sell him things he doesn’t need.  I’d like to say that.  Really, I would.  Sadly, I can’t.

Of course, NHL is only 7 years old, so his naiveté can be forgiven when it comes to this subject.  Still, it is both amusing and frustrating to hear a commercial come on the television only to be followed by cries of “Can we get that?”, “Can we go to that?”, “Can we watch that?”  Of course, since his little brother is such a copy-cat, those cries get echoed by JSL as well.

If an “As Seen On TV” product spot airs that shows kids gluing bits of paper together to make something that vaguely resembles a dog, suddenly the boys will want this item.  It is all they’ve ever wanted in their lives and they must possess it!

If the boys see a commercial for a fast food chain, they are overcome with a hunger for burgers and chicken nuggets.  And a toy.  Don’t forget the toy that comes with the meal!  (We used to let the boys have the rare trip to McDonalds until we realized that JSL was playing with the toys and refusing to eat anything but french fries.)

If NHL spies a spot for a new television show that will be airing, suddenly he develops a desire to see this show.  The DVR must be set immediately even if the show is a month away.  Never mind that the DVR can only go a week out.  This show is going to be the greatest thing EVER and they can’t wait to see it.

I’ve sat down with NHL and explained that he doesn’t need everything he sees in commercials.  I’ve told him that they are designed to sell him things.  Still, I know that come the next commercial interruption, he’ll be asking for something new that he just has to have.

How about you? Have your kids noticed and asked for items from commercials?

What Was My Post About Again?

A few days ago, I was walking into work and thinking about blog post topics.  I suddenly thought of a great topic.  I mulled using it for my Tuesday post, but decided instead to use it for my upcoming Dad Revolution post.  There’s one small thing standing between you and reading this fantastic post, though.  My memory.

You see, in the handful of days between Monday and today (Thursday since this post will be scheduled), I’ve forgotten what the topic was.  I can remember that I had a topic idea and that it was great, but that’s it.  Why is my memory like this?  I blame my kids.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my boys.  Just yesterday, NHL came up to me, gave me a great big hug and told me that he loved me and he’d never be too big to hug me.  What was better was that he wasn’t doing it as a tactic to get out of trouble.  I live for those moments.

Still, life was simpler BC (“Before Children”).  If we wanted to have something for dinner, there wasn’t any little finicky palates to worry about.  If we wanted to head out to the store, we didn’t need to worry about bedtimes or potty breaks (beyond our own).  If we wanted to complete a particular task, we did it.

Now, with kids in the mix, our attention is often diverted ten different ways at once.  At our average dinner time alone, I need to prepare the food, keep NHL from beating up on JSL, keep JSL from beating up on NHL, deal with finicky palates as the boys don’t want what I’m making, get the boys seated, remind NHL to sit down (why he insists on standing while eating is beyond me), tell JSL not to play with his food, serve my wife dinner, get water for the boys, get myself food, sit down, realize that the boys want seconds before any food touches my lips, get them seconds, fend off “dessert now” cries as the boys are done and I’m taking my first bite, eat my food, get the boys dessert, get them cleaned up, and clean up the dishes.

My brain often feels like it is being pulled in five different directions at once.  So you’ll excuse me for not writing my super-fantastic Dad Revolution post.  Maybe, once this post is published, I will remember the topic.  If I do, I’ll try to write it down otherwise I’m sure to forget it by the time I… [JSL! Don’t stand on the couch! NHL, don’t swing that toy!] Wait. What was I talking about again?

When Parenting Styles Collide

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Amy Chua argues that “Chinese Mother” parenting is superior to the typical Western parenting style.  She claims that pushing your child to get straight A’s via extreme measures while denying them the ability to choose their own extracurricular activities is a better method for leading children to success.  While I couldn’t disagree more, there have been plenty of responses written defending Western parenting and slamming “Chinese Mother” parenting.  One thing stood out to me reading the article, though.  What of the Chinese Fathers?

For part of the article, Amy Chua writes about “Chinese mothers” but at some point she switches to “parents.”  Still, she admits that her husband, Jed, is not of the same mindset as she is when it comes to parenting styles.  While she believes that the children owe their parents everything and the parents should “override all of their children’s own desires and preferences”, her husband thinks that “it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them [the children].”

So far, there’s no real problem.  Usually parents will agree on some parenting points and disagree with others.  In my mind, however, parenting is a team effort.  When disagreements happen, they should be hashed out (preferably not in front of the children) and a compromise reached.  Amy, however, doesn’t seem to think this is the case.

She recounts a story of trying to teach her daughter Lulu, 7 at the time, how to play "The Little White Donkey" on the piano.  Lulu was having great difficulty with the piece and so Amy threatened her with no meals, with giving away her toys and called her “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”  Her husband intervened and, pulling her aside, mentioned that he didn’t think threatening was helpful.  Perhaps she simply didn’t have the coordination yet, he argued.

At this point, I would hope a normal couple would figure out some compromise.  Some slight change in tactics that would satisfy both parents.  Amy, however, told Jed that he just didn’t believe in his daughter, mocked him and went right back to her tactics (even going as far as denying bathroom breaks).  When her daughter finally performed the song properly, Amy took it as vindication that she was right (and, presumably, that her husband was wrong).

To me, Amy shows a lack of respect towards her partner in parenting.  She completely dismisses his concerns and thoughts on the matter.  She admits sarcastically mimicking him.  For his part, he seems to give up the fight and let her do what she wants.  To me, this raises the question of how many other times this discussion has taken place.  How many times did he raise his objections to her parenting tactics only to basically be told to sit down and shut up?  Did he eventually give up fighting not because he thought she was right, but because he saw an old familiar path of arguing to no effect?  Where, in Amy Chua’s vision of Chinese Mothering, does the father fit in?

New Year, New Goals

It’s a tradition for many people to make resolutions on New Year’s.  We examine our lives, plan how we’d like to improve ourselves and then go through with it… for a few weeks, that is.  Then our old habits tend to return and the resolutions are forgotten until the next New Year’s when we promise ourselves that this year will be different.

Despite the failure of many people’s resolutions, I still think they’re a good idea in theory.  They just need to be thought of more as goals with plans on attaining these goals.  So here are three of my New Year’s goals for 2011, how I plan on attaining them and, since this is Dad Revolution, how they impact my daddy-quality.

Goal #1: Lose 25 pounds

Last year, I lost 20 pounds in 20 weeks using a “Weight Watchers-esque” plan.  While I was a success in my quest, I’ve since gained the weight back plus a few more pounds.  I want to lose this weight.  When I lost the weight, I found that I had more energy and could keep up with the kids better.  Obviously, this meant I could interact with them more without having to sit out their games.  I was also happier and a happy TechyDad is a calmer TechyDad.  Speaking of calmer…

Goal #2: Eat Healthier

This might seem to be the same as above, but it’s only partially related.  I’ve been guilty recently of reaching for frozen pizza bites and other less-than-healthy meals for the boys to eat for dinner.  In 2011, I want to make more fresh meals for them and introduce more vegetables in their diets.  (Especially JSL who would eat Macaroni and Cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner if we allowed it.)  This will be an uphill battle, as JSL rejects anything not on a short list of approved meals.  A list that he will change on a whim.  However, eating healthier would make for a healthier mom, dad and kids.

Goal #3: Work With My Boys More

We’ve found that NHL is wanting to learn more than he is being taught in school.  This year, I want to work with him more on various topics.  I’ll spend more time teaching him math, watching Mythbusters (for the science content, though the explosions are nice too), teaching him how to use a camera (my old point and shoot with the broken flash will be loaned to him for supervised use) and performing scientific experiments together.  With JSL, I plan on spending more time singing songs with him, making up games together and just plain having fun.

I already cut myself off from social media and work on Saturdays as a combination religious observance and a time for family.  I want to extend this to other days during the week.  No, I don’t mean I’m going to unplug during the other 6 days, but I’ll set aside more time to spend with my boys.

So, what are your goals for the new year?  How do you plan on improving in 2011?

Busting Failure Fears

Recently, NHL has been refusing to complete assignments in school.  He’ll claim that they are too hard for him when we all know that he is perfectly capable of completing them.  We’ve spoken with him and believe that one of the problems is that he’s afraid to fail.  He so fears not succeeding at what he’s doing that he’d rather not make any attempt at all.  This is something I can greatly sympathize with.

In my teen and college years, I would often find myself frozen (figuratively speaking).  I would know what I wanted to do but fear would fill my mind.  I would imagine what would happen if I didn’t succeed.  In my mind’s eye, worst case scenario after worst case scenario would unfold.  Would people laugh at me?  Would I be ridiculed for years later for my horribly failed attempt.  Even when I would make an attempt, I would often self-sabotage: acting at the last minute and thus being unable to properly complete the task.  For example, the year when I decided to overcome my fears and go to a Halloween costume party… when it was too late to purchase a costume.  I went in a homemade “costume” that seemed clever until I actually arrived at the party.

When I met TheAngelForever online, I knew there was something special about her and I decided to work hard to put my fears aside.  I successfully squashed my fears every time they arose (with one notable exception*) and we dated happily.  This isn’t to say that I didn’t have those fear-filled moments.  I had a lot of them.  Worst Case Scenarios would try to fill my mind but I’d push them back.

With NHL so much like me, I decided I was the best person to talk to him about failure fears.  Yet, my words didn’t seem enough all by themselves.  I needed a more concrete example.  Luckily, this was supplied courtesy of Mythbusters.  A recent episode saw them testing the Archimedes Death Ray for the third time (this time at the behest of President Obama) and a myth from the movie Hellboy (a super punch to a car’s hood will make it flip up and over the person).

As often happens in Mythbusters, they came up with a brilliant plan to test the myth only to have the plan fail spectacularly and repeatedly.  The Hellboy myth’s steel fist (used since mythical creatures were in short supply) kept missing the cars.  The cars missed their mark.  The mirrors for the Archimedes Death Ray weren’t setting fire to the ship.

I pointed out to NHL how many times the Mythbusters failed.  I told him one of the Mythbusters’ mottos: Failure is always an option.  I told him that, when the Mythbusters failed, they figured out what went wrong and fixed it so that their next attempt would succeed.  Did they want to fail?  Of course not.  Were they afraid of failure?  Definitely not.  Even a failed test can yield valuable data.

At the end of the show, Jamie was commenting on the busting of the Archimedes Death Ray.  He remarked that the ship wasn’t set on fire but all the reflected light was extremely disconcerting.  He theorized that the Archimedes Death Ray was really designed to distract and disorient invaders.  Then, Jamie said something that should be taught to all kids.  Something that I’ll definitely be repeating over and over to NHL.

“When we experiment… When we try things and we fail… We start to ask why.  And that’s when we learn.”

 

 

* The one notable exception was after I first met TheAngelForever in person.  After a great first in-person date, she was supposed to call me when she got home.  I waited patiently but didn’t get a call.  I began to imagine worst case scenarios including car accidents.  I called and reached her mother.  She said that B hadn’t arrived home yet and she would call me when she got home.  After another hour, I called again… and again.  By now, I was really afraid that something awful had befallen her.  It turned out that she was parked in the driveway of a friend of hers, talking about how well the date went.  My fears for B’s safety had endeared me to her mother.  This one time, the only time I can think of, my fears actually did some good.

Parent, Interrupted

Earlier this week, I was reading Blogging Dangerously’s Busted post.  In it, Kit recounts speaking with a guy who told his version of “cheating on his wife.”  He would go into a hotel room and emerge, 8 hours later, with rumpled clothing.  The twist was that nobody would accompany him.  He would have “cheated” by getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

That got me to thinking.  So much of parenting involves being interrupted.  It starts at the beginning of the day when my alarm goes off.  And by “my alarm”, I mean NHL.  He wakes up at 6:30am rain or shine, weekday or weekend.  Even if we get him playing by himself in the living room, he is sure to be followed by his brother soon enough.  During the day, conversations need to be paused to answer questions and activities halted for potty runs.

Later on, when I’m cooking dinner, I need to multitask by breaking up fights while keeping the food from burning.  Then comes serving.  You would think that this would entail giving everyone their food and sitting down to eat, right?  Wrong.  First, you need to give the kids their food.  Then, I serve my wife.  As I’m getting ready to plate my food, I’ll often have to field complaints about what I made for dinner.  If there aren’t any complaints, then one or more of my kids is likely finished and wants more.  So I give them more.  Around this time, they realize that they don’t have any water to drink.  So I need to fill up their water bottles.  Finally, I get to sit down to eat just in time to hear cries for dessert.

All the interruptions are worth it, though.  I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, certainly not for hours to focus on one task without being pulled off to another one.  Nowadays, my most treasured uninterrupted times don’t involve TV programs meant for adults, meals cooked or even blog posts read.  They’re the times that I sit down with my kids and play.  We are rarely interrupted and have a blast whether we’re building train tracks, watching cartoons or reading stories.

Still, I’ll admit that Kit’s friend’s story does sound tempting.  Of course, if I did that, I wouldn’t be alone.  I would first make sure that the kids were safely dropped off at a relative’s house (perhaps her parents).  Then my wife and I would check into a hotel room.  While there, we would enjoy eight straight hours of that blissful in-bed activity known as slumber.  We might even engage in one or two quickie… naps.

A Warning About Super Powered Kids

A few days ago, Derek Markham from The Good Men Project wrote about Seven Essential Superpowers that dads should possess.  That got me to thinking.  It isn’t just dads (and moms) that possess super powers, but kids too.  I’ve compiled a list of 4 child superpowers.  Now these are just the ones that immediately came to mind.  I’m sure there are more so feel free list additional ones in the comments section below.

Elastic Arms – Every parent has done this.  You have something that you’d rather the kids not get hold of.  Maybe it’s a pair of scissors or a marker or some chocolate.  You put it on the counter.  Not the front of the counter, though, but *waaaay* in the back.  Then you turn around to do something else.  When you turn back, your child has run off with the forbidden item.  There is no was that they could have reached it.  No way, that is, unless their arms stretched across that counter, over the pot, around the cans of beans and past the shopping bag.  Yes, kids have elastic arms and they’re not afraid to use them to get what they want!

Super Speed – When babies are little, you can leave them in the middle of the floor and be guaranteed that they’ll be there when you get back.  Soon after they learn to crawl, they develop amazing speed.  Their speed is pretty good when they want something, but when it is something that they shouldn’t have?  That’s when their real power kicks in.  As they age, they learn to control this talent.  They dart behind clothes racks while you are in the store, they run down the block while you struggle to keep up and they grab items that you’d rather not them have.  (Super Speed plus Elastic Arms is a dangerous combination!)

Psychic Abilities – The kids are in bed.  You and your spouse are sitting next to each other.  One thing leads to another and… wait, is that the kids crying?  Did the older one just get up to go potty?  Now they want a drink of water?  Yes, kids might not know what it is that mommy and daddy do when they’re alone together, but they can sense when it is about to happen and how best to disrupt it.

This power also manifests in the ability to know just the right thing to say to achieve maximum parental embarrassment.  Whether it is repeating an offhand remark you said weeks ago or asking a highly inappropriate question, kids excel at causing embarrassment.

Hyper Cuteness – Now, these powers might be dangerous, but surely using them would get your kid time in the local super villain detention center, or maybe just sent to their room without dessert.  And sometimes it does.  (The no dessert thing, not the super villain detention center thing.)  But all too often they get away with it.  Why?  This is their most devious power of all: Hyper Cuteness (also known as Super Sweetness or Mega Adorableness).  One hug, “Daddy, I love you” or smile and suddenly you’re left with no memory of their infractions.  You might even wind up rewarding them.  It’s heinous, I tell you, heinous!

So there you have it.  Beware of the superpowers that children can (and do) wield.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, my son just smiled at me and I need to give him a hug.  He’s sooooo cute!