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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Santa Claus is a glory hog: Can I please tell my kids the truth?

As a real person, Santa Claus seems like he'd have to be a nice guy. Building toys all year round just to satisfy the desires of children all over the world in one marathon delivery service UPS would kill to be able to emulate. This is his goal in life: to give good children their just recompense and to give bad children, well, their just recompense: coal. Although with energy prices the way they are, naughty children might not even deserve that much.

But here's my beef with Santa: he's not real. I'm sorry if this broke your spirit to hear it from me. Just don't read this out loud to your children if you want them to believe the fallacy until the eyes of innocence surrender to the weight of evidence to the contrary. Like closets full of toys that wind up under the tree with Santa's name on them. Hmmm...

Now, I never really thought about this until having my own children, but now that I do, Santa ticks me off. After Christmas, my son, 4, told me he wanted to write Santa a thank you letter for bringing him all his little heart desired. While I'm grateful he's grateful, the gratitude is completely misdirected. Away from parents. We put the time, blood, sweat, and money to making that boy's Christmas memorable. Santa? He just sat on his imaginary rump and took the credit. I can assure you Santa didn't make anything my children got for Christmas, unless he got a $1.23/month job at a Chinese factory. I can also assure you he didn't deliver any of the presents, unless he was wearing a brown uniform and shaved his beard. And I can especially assure you he didn't build the kids' kitchen set. I did. And egad was it a big project. The thanks I get? "I'm so glad Santa got me all the things I wanted!" Well, call me old-fashioned, but I don't like being mistaken for a fat old man who wears a red suit and sneaks down people's chimneys at night and eats all their cookies.

Why can't I just tell my kids: "You know, Santa is fiction. Like Harry Potter, only harder to believe. Every toy you're now enjoying? That's me and Mommy. Why don't you write me a thank you letter?" I don't think I even got a verbal "thank you" for anything I gave the kids openly from Daddy and Mommy. Although they have repeatedly expressed how happy they are with what they got.

I guess the hard part of this is that society teaches them to believe. And we parents love the innocence it takes to believe such tales. So we reinforce it. We even brought our children to our church Christmas party where Santa came. Our son informed Santa he wanted a "toy combine tractor" which he had seen in a store. He thought it would be easier for Santa to just go buy it than make it himself. (It is. Trust me. I made a play kitchen, remember?) Our 3-year-old daughter sulked on an unknown man's lap until he finally put her down with a candy cane. Anyway, days later, when someone asked my son if he knew what he was getting for Christmas, he nonchalantly said, "A toy combine tractor."

"What if you get something else?"

"I'll get it. I talked to Santa about it."

And us sucker parents, who had already gotten him something else, couldn't crush the simple faith of our child in a fictional glory hog. So he got a "toy combine tractor" and the other present, which he loves as well. Does anyone else see something wrong with that scenario?

I vote for a world without Santa. For parents' sake. A world where I can shower my children with gifts and they in return shower me with love and affection. Besides, isn't Christmas supposed to be about He who bears its namesake? I think a better way to celebrate would be to tell the kids that Mommy and Daddy picked all the presents and paid for them, built them, or ordered them because we love them. But, it is Christ who gives us all things, right down to the holiday itself. Without Him, there'd be no Christmas. There'd be no presents. There'd be no us. If we emphasize that instead of Santa Claus, wouldn't the holidays be more complete?

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the kids open and play with their new toys. Now excuse me while I brainstorm how to kill off an old, fat, one-man-show so I can get a thank you letter from my appreciative son.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Daddy gift idea: Forget iPad or Kindle Fire, get him Kindle touch, Nook Simple Touch

Most married dudes know they can get their wife mad at them by playing too much with gadgets. Heck, this is the reason I don't have a smart phone, iPad or Kindle Fire. I know my life would get sucked into their little screen. Every idle moment I had would be filled playing games that require me to put candy in a frog-like monster's mouth with Rube Goldberg-style setups or to help a sewer crocodile take a shower that isn't toxic. While these games are fun, and there are a lot of positive uses for Web-browsing, game-playing gadgets like iPhones, I find the negatives outweigh the positives for me.

When I got married, I initially forsook most digital forms of entertainment and began reading voraciously. I kept a list of the books I had read for a while. In about two years that I kept the list, I had read over 200 books. But I recently slowed down on reading and started substituting gadget time again, much to my wife's chagrin.

But for Christmas, I got a Kindle Touch. This combines two of my favorite things: gadgets and reading. And it does it in a way that helps me like both better. This is a perfect daddy gift. While it reinforces the love of gadgets, it has one task: to make it easy to read. I read way more now that I have it. And with free classics readily available, I find my willingness to read things on the bucket list has expanded significantly. Heck, I downloaded War & Peace and am actually excited to read it. At least I won't be toting around a thick, thousand-page book for a month or more while I struggle through it.

The best part of this gift is my wife can't get nearly as mad at me for using it compared to other electronics I own. It's just picking up a book that happens to have a power switch. Now, my wife and I often read side-by-side on Kindles after our kids have gone to bed. No movies, no video games, no Internet surfing. Just quiet with the occasional click of a button or tap of a finger on the touch screen. Forget the iPad, just get a singularly focused e-reader and do something more worthwhile with Daddy's time.

It's not without its shortcomings, but I love having it. Especially now that the library carries Kindle books.

Get Daddy a Kindle

Monday, October 17, 2011

Avoiding "Sanctuaries of misbehavior" for children

A grocery store is one place that can be a sanctuary for misbehavior.
The key is to not allow any behavior you wouldn't at home.

It is easier to enforce family rules when you're in your element. When we are at home, we can deal with individual situations consistently every time. It is easy to set boundaries and let children deal with the consequences.

However, grocery stores, church and even our home when guests visit can become "sanctuaries of misbehavior" unless we, as parents, are consistent with our parenting guidelines even there. In other words, children can figure out you may not be able to discipline them the same way during church as you would at home. Indeed, they figure out they can get away with things they couldn't get away with at home. They test their boundaries in all situations.

For instance, I recently shattered my kneecap, article forthcoming. Since this happened, I have had to adapt my parenting style a little since I cannot always move to enforce discipline. My wife and I began to notice the kids weren't as quick to obey me since they knew I wouldn't chase them down and help make it happen if they didn't obey quickly. Some would probably term their behavior "running wild."

Maybe sometimes the correction for misbehavior will have to come after the fact. For instance, a friend of ours taught us to use "reverent practice." When the children misbehave in church, whether it be by attempting to wander the aisles, crawl under the pews, or backflipping off the pulpit, we for a while had reverent practice when we got home. This also happened after irreverent prayers or family home evenings. In reverent practice, we place the children in chairs and have them fold their arms, put their feet in front of their chair, not fidget, and remain quiet. Until they do, they remain on the chair. The contest of wills isn't always short, but it has been effective in teaching our kids to remain reverent during the appropriate times. Now, we rarely have to discipline during or after church.

We also have a zero-tolerance standpoint for noise. If they make an unholy racket in Sacrament meeting, we escort them to the foyer, where - this is important - they stay on our lap or we hold them, aloft from anything that could be considered fun. Otherwise they would view these forays to the foyer as a reward for being loud during a dry talk. The lap approach probably won't be appropriate with teenagers, so it's best to start early so you don't have to when that time comes.

How many times have you seen a child screaming their head off in a grocery store, fully knowing the embarrassment they are causing, while you can't take the established recourses from home like timeout or sending them to a room or whatever to scream their lungs out? What can you do about this? Exit the store immediately. Go to the car. Sit the child in their carseat. Return to the store only when they have calmed down. I've also had to use the car approach for midnight screaming sessions or naughty children once we've reached the lap/foyer stage at church.

If children can sense the boundaries are always in place, no matter the locale, they will modify their behavior eventually to fall in line with expectations, unless they are stubborn or discipline has remained unenforced for too long.

What do you do to avoid sanctuaries of misbehavior for your children?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Modern Mormon Men: MoronicScammersAndTheDumbThingsTheyTryToDo

I have recently become a contributor to Modern Mormon Men. I have a lot of leeway what I write about over there, and this one really cracks me up. I want you to meet Mack, the oceanographer stuck at sea who really wanted to buy my car, via PayPal, with a private shipper picking it up for him. Because he's at sea. Enjoy reading about this moron trying to steal from me.
Modern Mormon Men: Moronic Scammers And The Dumb Things They Try To Do

Monday, September 19, 2011

Frogs on fire: the answers to life's big questions through the eyes of toddlers

Ask this frog the question, and he just might
tell you the answer.
Last night I was driving in the ol' swagger wagon with my family, heading to grandma's house for a Sunday dinner. Never did I expect to find the answer to one of life's biggest questions while going to my mom's house.

My 3-year-old son posed the question: "Why do frogs burn up?"

I wondered how many times I had heard that question posed by the greatest philosophers and sought the answer myself.

After a thorough search of my memory, the answer came to me: zero times. Zip. Zilch. Nada. That doesn't mean I didn't wonder anyway how a philosopher would answer the question - those guys are pretty zany with their metaphysical wonderings.

Anyway, my 2-year-old daughter, perhaps the greatest philosopher in the family, had the answer: "Mmmm," she said thoughtfully before answering, "Because they have a fire on them?"

My favorite was that she put a question mark at the end of her answer, perhaps recognizing the nonsensical-ness of our son's original question, but answering it as seriously as she knew how. These kind of exchanges really make me laugh, and they happen all the time in our household.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Falling in love with your children quiz

When I look at my children, I often think, "Man, I am lucky to be those kids' Daddy." I really see it as a privilege to raise these loving, adorable, happy and rambunctious children. Soon after thinking this, I often wonder if all parents feel the same about their children. Does every parent come equipped with pure, unconditional love toward their kids? So after thinking about it for a while (the time it's taken me to write this paragraph), I've decided to create a quiz that will teach you about your level of love for your children.

1. When your child sprays you with a water hose, do you:
    A. Laugh and take it like a champ?
    B. Take the hose from them and douse them until they go crying to the opposite parent for help with their figurative tail between their sad little legs?
    C. Playfully call them a punk, then take turns squirting each other until you fall laughing onto the lawn?
    D. Send them to time out?
    E. Take the hose from them and tell them to never do that again?

2. When your child gives you sass, do you:
    A. Give them a stern look and ask them not to treat you that way?
    B. Give them a stern look and ask them not to treat you that way while secretly turning and looking at parent #2 to see if they saw how cute said sass was?
    C. Let them give you sass, because hey, kids don't respect adults like they used to and you might as well get used to it?
    D. Sass them right back?
    E. Tattle on the sass-master to the other parent?

3. When you have some food you've been looking forward to eating for some time, do you:
    A. Hide behind the fridge door and snarf it before the kids realize you have any?
    B. Gladly share it, giving the little vultures that have surrounded you far more bites than you take yourself?
    C. Share, but snarf as much as you can between their bites?
    D. Put the kids to bed early so you can eat it in peace?
    E. Brush the kids teeth before you eat it so you can have a good excuse for not sharing?

4. When you get a movie that's not for children, but the kids keep wandering out of bed, completely not tired because you put them in bed at 4:30 to prepare for your relaxing movie/stay-at-home-date night, do you:
    A. Quickly stop cuddling on the couch and stand up, furious, sending them back to bed irately?
    B. Hear the pitter-patter footsteps and yell to turn them around before they make it to you?
    C. Intercept the wee tykes in the hall, gently take them by the hand and explain it's a Mommy-and-Daddy movie and they wouldn't like it anyway, and tuck them into bed with the fifteenth kiss goodnight?
    D. Eject your movie, invite the kid into the cuddle party, and put in Thomas the Tank Engine until they fall asleep in your arms?
    E. Stop your movie and let steam vent out of your ears while you daydream about making child-shaped holes in your wall?

5. When your child wants a puppy, do you:
    A. Say "No."
    B. Say "Oh, heck no!"
    C. Say "Ask your Mommy/Daddy," knowing she/he will answer A or B?
    D. Get them the puppy?
    E. Tell them puppies are now extinct?

Answer key:
For the most part, you should be able to guess which the right answers are. Some are not so obvious, however. The right answers may shift from child to child, person to person, or day to day, even. Since these are situations dealing with individuals, I will not provide a cut-and-dry answer key. Except on number 5. You just gotta let them know all puppies got eaten by dinosaurs that then got obliterated by an asteroid which then pushed said squished dinosaurs into the raging inferno of the sun, said impact causing the sun to implode and become a black hole, which only sucks in kitties, thereby helping with the followup question when they find out puppies are extinct.

My point here is that you should adore your children. You won't look back on your life and think, "I should have figured out how to get more movie nights with my wife when my kids were young." But you will always remember breaking your child's heart in situations like these. And if that heart breaks often enough, at some point it becomes nearly irreparable, causing lasting damage to yourself, and more important, those children of yours. It is a God-given privilege to be a parent. I hope everyone can feel that way about their kids. Do yourself a favor: List everything you love about your children. Don't list anything that bothers you - just the things you love. Unless you're Hitler, you're bound to come out with a pretty good list. Then, thank Heavenly Father for the privilege you have of raising children with all of those remarkable traits. You might just forget about all those things that bother you.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Velvet Nose: Moments that matter with your kids

Singing incorrect lyrics is just one way to strengthen your family.
We sing primary songs to our two older children as part of the bedtime ritual most nights. During requests, they often get to the point where they sing the entire song to you to request that you sing it. They love the tradition, and it really does help calm them down and get them ready for bed.

One of the songs is one my children call "The Bluebird Song" but is actually called "My Heavenly Father Loves Me." They call it that because the opening line says: "Whenever I hear the song of a bird, or look at the blue, blue sky." So they just kind of ran with it and it became "The Bluebird Song." I actually had to ask my wife the real title just now.

One lyric in the song is, "Whenever I touch a velvet rose, or walk by a lilac tree, I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world, Heavenly Father created for me." And when I sing this to them, I always substitute "nose" for "rose" and poke their noses lovingly. Every time, they burst into laughter and correct me with their "Daddy-you're-being-silly voices."

"Velvet rose!" they emphasize. I'll sometimes alter the lyrics here and there just to elicit this reaction, but this one I do almost every time. It's almost become part of the song, sort of like a round. I love it, and by the delighted voices of my children when I boofer the lyrics, they love it too.

This is the kind of moment every parent should cultivate with their children. It is so important to develop inside jokes, quirky and silly repeating jokes, and little rituals that help you bond. This is a major strengthener to any family, even though the events often seem minor. Look for ways to cultivate these minor moments that will become lasting memories for both you and your children. And beyond that, it socializes your children, teaching them how to be a friend in part because you are being their friend with the kind of moments friendship are made of.

What rituals have you found in your family which strengthen you in minor ways?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The real reasons why babies don't smile

Don't even think about making me smile.
I know so-called “experts” say babies don't smile because of that whole “not developed enough” thinger, but I think there's more to it than that. So I got to thinking what reasons a baby would have not to smile. All of this came to me as I was cooing and wiggling my head and grinning like an idiot trying to get my two-week-old daughter to smile at me and show off her dimples. Here's the list:

  1. They're asleep: Yes. Even when they're awake they're asleep. Eyeballs don't mean anything. Just because they're looking at you doesn't mean they're consciously aware. They're just sleeping with their eyes open.
  2. They're little: Think about it. If you were that tiny and everyone else around you were ginormous, happiness probably wouldn't be on the docket. Emotions you would feel? Paranoia, fear, helplessness, and indigestion. Technically the last one's not an emotion, though it sure causes some.
  3. They have indigestion: Nothing worse than not being able to digest liquid easily. How hard can it be? But those little kids have a rough time on it, if the looks of concentration mean anything.
  4. They're about to puke: All the time. My kids have never even been anywhere near what some kids have, but man have I gotten doused with our newest little girl. The word shower comes to mind, but not in a good way.
  5. They don't see well: Their eyes are still pretty glazed over at two weeks. For all you know, they could see you as a fire demon or ogre making obnoxious noises or something.
  6. They can't move: Would you be happy if your life consisted of sitting in one place wiggling arms and legs until someone decided to pay attention to you? Oh wait – that's what people running those mall kiosks do. I'm pretty sure I've never seen one of them smile either. Mobility is a blessed thing. Flailing arms and legs while trying to lift a head that's a third of your body weight? Not so much.
  7. Liquid diet: Even when I try to feed my daughter ice cream, a muffin, or a juicy porterhouse, my wife disagrees with me. Not just a little either. If your solitary food source were human milk from you know where, I doubt your smile muscles would get much of a workout. Our social engagements often revolve around food. And that'd get pretty awkward if we all shared a baby's diet.
  8. Your head fit through what? Ouch. My head hurts just thinking about it. Enough said.
  9. They have siblings: Suddenly, the newest baby becomes a target of “affection” from the older siblings. This can only mean bad news for baby. But unlike the cat whose fur gets yanked out by loving children, baby cannot flee. Think about that for a second and then reread 6.
  10. Let me sleep! We inflict our schedules and our desires on the little tykes, who just want to sleep, daggummit. We wake them to show them off to visitors, we wake them for feeding, and we wake them accidentally when we step on them...or something... They wake up on the wrong side of the non-bed like 375 times a day.

These are the real reasons babies don't smile when they are newborns. Muscle control doesn't have a lot to do with it in my opinion. Life is rough when you're that small and helpless. There's a lot more reasons than these too. Why do you think babies don't smile?

UPDATE: Yeah, things have changed already since I wrote this. Now, when I make weird noises she looks at me quizzically as if she's trying to process what category of life to fit my actions into and when it slowly drifts into place in the comedic bracket she gives a single giggle, waves her arms uncontrollably and shows off her one dimple. Guess my idiocy finally struck a funny bone somewhere. Here's a picture to prove it:

PS: This post ran first on Modern Mormon Men. You can check it out there with a few comments from people if you'd like.

Funny Kid Story #4: Just last year

Being part of a family with three potty-break-happy children on a road trip, I'm always pleased to find a rest area with a family restroom. This makes potty breaks a lot easier. More importantly, not so many men passing through the restroom get to laugh at the insane antics I have to deal with every time I'm in a restroom with  my children.

Since this was the 600th potty break during this particular voyage, I exasperatedly hauled my son (wearing sandals) and daughter (barefoot) out of their back seats in the van to take them into the restroom without worrying about putting on the sandals which the girl had shed - also for the 600th time. When we got into the restroom, I realized there was nowhere to put her down without contacting - um, questionable floors of the restroom. I've seen how well my own kids aim sometimes and I'm afraid that was the general condition of the restroom. Proud of my brainchild, I realized my actual child could wait on the changing table while the actual emergency named "the boy" took care of business.

As I sat her down, she looked at me and said, "Daddy, this is for babies."

I looked at the 2-year-old giving me the sass and said, "You still are my baby, sweetness."

Her reply, spoken like a true teenage daughter: "Daddy, I'm not a baby anymore. I was a baby last year."

I tickled her and told her how smart she was, but part of me realizes her assessment is sadly accurate. Now that we have a newborn in the home, she has really realized she's not the baby anymore. But she will always be my baby, even by the time she's making me grandbabies. She just doesn't know it yet.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Modern Mormon Men: Guest Post: Parenting With Zone Defense

It's just as easy as it looks...
Modern Mormon Men Guest Post: Parenting With Zone Defense: My first guest post on Modern Mormon Men is a condensed version of this post. Choose whichever you like. If you have kids, you'll laugh wherever you read it. Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Guest Post: A Fellow Apparent Parent

Happy Independence Day from Apparent Parent! What better way to celebrate Independence Day than to provide you with the first post on the site that isn't coming from me? This blog can now celebrate it's liberation from my tyrannical, writer-crampy hand. With that, enjoy this post from guest author Lisa Gioia-Acres.

“She’s such a mother, isn’t she?” 

My daughter said those words to a friend of hers as I placed a plate of cheese and crackers on the coffee table.  Dinner was still about 30 minutes from being ready and I wanted to ensure my guests were not going hungry.  Yes, I guess I am a “mother,” the good kind, not the one with a swear word after it. 
Years ago I attended a function for my daughter’s school where she and several students were being honored for their academic accomplishments.  I mingled with other parents, many of them prominent members of the local community; their name tags identifying them with their company names.  My tag just had my name on it.  When someone asked me what I did, the words came out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying.  “I’m just a parent.” 
At the time I was a full-time student working toward my master’s degree and was not gainfully employed.  I felt “less-than” amongst my peers who were successful in business. 
It was when my daughter went up to the podium and gave a speech that I realized just what a fool I was.  Being “just a parent” to that incredible young woman I gave birth to and raised made me the most successful person in the room. 
Since that day I have joined the ranks of the successful; I am a practicing historian, college professor, and still chase dreams of glory.  But I also cook everything from scratch for dinner guests, teach my children and grandchildren the beauty and practicality of planting a garden, make sure the kids are bathed and well-fed, and cuddle and kiss them incessantly.
Yep.  I’m a mother alright.  I would not want any other label placed on me.  
Author bio:
It took me a long time to believe I am a writer, much less be able to call myself one. In addition to writing, which has been my best psychoanalyst for many years, I am a historian who specializes in documenting life stories. I teach both history and anthropology. I am an animal lover and caregiver, a mom, wife, and friend. I am a blessed woman who calls herself the "optimist," as I believe there is good out of every life experience. Thank you for visiting and allowing me to share a bit of my story with you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Funny Kid Story #3: Dancing Baby

This morning I was listening to Internet radio on my headphones while holding my infant daughter. Until now the kids have only ever known that headphones were good for removing the little buds just to annoy Daddy. But this morning I introduced to them what they were really for right after they woke up, sticking a bud in each of their ears.

They both got cute little grins and announced how silly it was that music was coming out of there. Pretty soon, my infant started squirming with hunger pains on my chest while the other kids listened intently to their shared ear buds on my lap. My older daughter got a cute grin on and said, "I think baby's dancing."

It's fun to watch kids build the framework of understanding around their lives.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Changing relationships with your kids: After the new addition

One of life's only true constants is change. I don't know who first became aware of that fact, but it's true.

This morning I realized how quickly those changes can come when my 2-year-old daughter sneaked up into bed with us and lay on top of me spread eagle for 20 minutes sucking her thumb.

This may not seem like an alert to change, but for me it was. Though my daughter will always find time to play with me, wrestle or build forts, cuddling has always been Mommy's domain. During family prayers, she sits on Mommy's lap. When she gets an "owie," she runs to Mommy. When she falls off the back of the couch right after we told her not to climb on the back of the couch, Mommy gets a cuddle buddy until its better.

This one has thrown a wrench in family workings. For me,
that has meant two other kids that love me a lot more for
coming home after work.
But since the arrival of our third child, I've noticed a change that's come over her. No longer does she arch her back in protest if I pick her up and cuddle her. Now she almost always chooses my lap for prayers - voluntarily. And this morning I got blissful wake-up cuddles with my beautiful daughter, even though Mommy was readily available, albeit less responsive. When I left for work, she cried. A month ago she would barely acknowledge me as I was leaving.

Now to the psychology of the matter. Since Baby's arrival, Mommy has been pretty wrapped up in feeding, changing and just plain holding the little girl, who often fusses because, well, she can't do ANYTHING for herself. This has left the kids more to their own devices, for better or worse. But when Daddy comes home, suddenly they've got someone there who isn't providing immediate care for someone completely helpless. Not that that means I don't ever have all three at once. Just last night I was sitting on our big, comfy chair while holding my youngest while my wife planned out a coming vacation. Soon my daughter came walking up with a book and made space on my lap so I could read to her. When my 3-year-old got the memo I was reading, he bee-lined it for my lap too, all but squishing the newborn between them on my chest. I literally had to find creative ways of holding the weight of the older kids off the youngest one while reading. I often used my reading arm to subtly push them away from the baby. Good times.

I guess my point is that sometimes it feels like your kids love you a lot more than other times. It's OK. It's natural. They'll come around. Just keep showing love and eventually it will be returned, even if it comes when the child makes it to adulthood. And the best part: When it hasn't always been that way, it feels so much better when your sweet little daughter cuddles into you for 20 minutes when she could have had her Mommy.

That is what parenting is all about.

Funny kid story #2: Little donkeys

As we were driving through Grand Teton National Park earlier this week, our 2-year-old daughter spotted some pronghorn antelope in an open field. Not knowing exactly what they were, she improvised as best she could in an ecstatic voice: "Mommy, Daddy, I see some little donkeys out there!"

 At least she didn't call them the Biblical alternate.
We saw some of these "little donkeys" in Grand
Teton National Park the other day.

If it were an adult calling a moose an elk or asking when the elk turn into moose, we'd all laugh because that person is a complete moron. But when coming from the mouth of a two-year-old, it shows major intelligence. We laugh because it's still funny, but at the same time we pat ourselves on the back for teaching her well enough that she could come up with a reasonable explanation for what was out there on the fly. She has had hugely limited experiences up until now, so it was fun to see her make such a connection. Watch for these funny ways your kids communicate the world as they know it. They help to brighten your day and you can begin to see intelligence taking shape.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Funny Kid Story #1: Standing in the sunshine

Glacier water cools you down real quick,
but our 2-year-old daughter spent 10 minute
chunks of time in up to her waist.
We went to the glacier-fed String Lake in Grand Teton National Park yesterday where the water temperature hovers just above absolute zero. Swimming in the lake is a little like cryostasis. I'm pretty sure you could live forever by floating in this lake if your heart doesn't fail when your toes hit the water. I swam in it. Briefly.

But my daughter put me to shame. While all the adults were daring each other to go and egging each other on whenever the sun came out from behind the clouds, my daughter spent 10-minute segments of time buried up to her waist in the freezing water. She busied herself by digging mud off the bottom of the lake and placing it in a pail to make us "soup." At the end of each 10-minute segment of water time, she traipsed up the hill to make sure we got some of her lovely broth, colder than gazpacho and uglier than black bean soup.


Anyway, she would come out sometimes and shiver just outside the water in the dappled light of the shoreline. We being good parents, while her teeth chattered, encouraged her to come up and wrap up in a towel and get warm. She being my daughter (as opposed to my wife's) just refused by answering, "No, I standing in the sunshine." Immediately after making the statement while her knees knocked together and her teeth clattered like wind chimes made out of hundreds of small rocks during a hurricane, she would tear back down to the water and go back in to her belly button. It was like she thought we'd deny her the privilege unless she took advantage of it that instant.

I have to say that I liked her rationale, though. Standing in the sunshine is the quickest way to warm up. And you can look at this from a general perspective on life that when your life is coldest, you need some sunshine to warm you up. Your sunshine might come in different ways: time with loved ones, pursuing a hobby or giving service. Whatever that sunshine is, though, if you seek it out and bask in it when you're up to your neck in life's cold, the water won't seem as cold the next time you have to dive in. Heck, you might even enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

FDA Smoking Labels 2012: Who should teach your children not to smoke?

Would seeing this on a cigarette label keep you from smoking?
It may be preaching to the choir. How many smokers do you know
that hope to remain smokers until they die from lung cancer?
Let me get this straight up front. I hate everything about smoking. Everything. It has absolutely no redeemable quality. At all. If someone made me choose between smoking one cigarette and taking a bath in cat vomit and skunk juice, I would choose the latter. Do I need to clarify that further?

Let me also get this straight: I never want my children to smoke - anyone else in the world for that matter. A smoke-free world would suit me beautifully. And if my kids ever pick up smoking, they probably won't be allowed in my house. Kapisch?

Knowing my stance on that, let me light up the FDA's newest use of taxpayer money. By October 2012, if not squelched by tobacco lawyers and lobbyists, tobacco companies will be forced to print graphic labels like the one shown above which take up a majority of their printed space. At least 90% of me wants to applaud the decision by our government to attempt to undo much of the damage they have done by subsidizing tobacco farmers to make sure there are hoards of tobacco farmers to provide tobacco companies with affordable crops. By 2015, these subsidies will be cut out, thanks to George W Bush. Now you can tell people he did at least one thing right. 

Will it change anything? Who knows? My kids will get the same anti-smoking education no matter what smoking labels say. But anyone who smokes through a hole in his neck caused by a little thing called smoking probably won't be deterred from his addiction by seeing his spitting image on a cigarette package. Will it stop a few people from starting or help a few people quit? Maybe. It's not like we're not an educated society on the health risks of smoking. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA projects a decrease of only 213,000 smokers in the first year of the gnarly looking labels. That's less than half a percent of all smokers in the U.S. 

And we all know how accurate government projections are anyway. For instance, government projected in 1967 spending of $12 billion on medicare through 1990. Drumroll for the actual numbers... $98 billion! More than 800 percent offtrack. And other sources list the cost at $109 billion, which is dang near $100,000,000,000.00 off. I just thought you should see the zeroes. If I had just one check written out to me for a millionth part of that, I could pay off my home and live like an oil tycoon on my comparably meager paychecks. 

But hey, maybe it will mean that more smokers quit than projected. Yeah right. Anyone know smokers? I know a smoker who has tried and been addicted to just about every major hard drug out there. He has quit all the major hard drugs. Smoking? Not so much. He wants to real bad though. Just ask him while he's lighting up.

So as much as I want to say “Thank you” to the FDA, I think I have to pass. Smokers will probably just be smokers anyway. I don't know where the funding is coming for this little label project, but I guarantee taxpayers will fund at least the government's court costs when tobacco companies sue their federal behinds off.
And besides, there's a small part of me that thinks it's just one more step toward Satan's plan. Government, more often than not anymore, has decided to step in and play watchdog on our morals. Sounds a little like our big bro Beelzebub. He wanted us all to be forced into doing what's right. Of course, you can't force anyone to do what's right. And it's my opinion making a smoker a nonsmoker only happens when said smoker decides it is the one thing most important to him or her. Government can never be a substitute for self control, no matter how much taxpayer money they throw at our problems.

Optimistically speaking, though, maybe the nasty labels will help my own children understand what I mean when I say I'd rather they swam through cat vomit than pick up a cigarette. Take it from me: Getting the government involved in just about anything is a bad idea, even when it seems good on the surface. Personally I think if every parent taught their children through example and strong admonition about smoking, no one would be able to sell cigarettes anyway. The responsibility for teaching people not to smoke remains in society's most basic unit: the family. Until families take responsibility for spreading the news well, no teenager will be dissuaded from a pack of cigarettes, no matter how grisly the images it shows.

How do you see the new labels? I welcome opinions from smokers and nonsmokers alike.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm one lucky dude, even if I forget sometimes

It's easy to forget how blessed you are sometimes when
you're changing the 400th dirty diaper of the day.
Taking a moment to reflect on the love of family
changed a bad day for me into a great one.
I'm one lucky guy, but life has a way of making me forget that sometimes. I get so caught up in trying to balance my time that sometimes I forget how amazing my circumstances are.

Most recently, with the arrival of our third child, I have had very little time to myself. Perhaps more importantly, I've hardly even been able to look at my wife, much less have some relaxing one-on-one time with her. Last night I came home from work to find her feeding the baby, as usual, while my two older kids demanded playtime. I'm not scared of playtime, but sometimes I just want to relax.

Since what I want generally means about as much as a Star Trek convention in the grand scheme of things, I went outside and played with my kids. That could be a bit of an exaggeration. I mowed the lawn, and the kids followed me outside excitedly to watch me mow through this summer's until-now virgin grass.

My son was upset I couldn't mow the grass right by the porch. Since I didn't feel like weed eating it either, he took matters into his own hands. He snagged handfuls of the long grass and chased me around while I pushed the mower and threw the grass into my path so it would get "eaten" by the lawn mower. It was hilarious watching him sprint up to the mower, which he's scared of, toss a few blades of plucked grass, and dash off again at top speed to make sure he wasn't eaten himself.

This whole time I'm mowing, I'm thinking how much I'd just like to be hiking with my wife on one of the first nice days of the year. While thus lamenting, my wife came out with our newborn and stood watching me finish off the lawn. My son then stood next to her and my daughter filed into place next to him, curls bouncing as she grinned at me.

It was a "masterpiece moment." My whole family lined up in descending order, back light streaming through their hair to give them golden halos in the afternoon sun. All (except the infant) had genuine smiles as they watched me trudge across the lawn through one of my last strips of uneaten grass. Suddenly, I wasn't doing the yard work because I had to. I was doing it for that beautiful family of mine. For that instant, I couldn't have changed anything to make my life better.

It was a reminder I needed. When we get caught up in the drudgery of raising children, we can look to those silver-lined moments to count our blessings. Ever since this happened, I haven't been able to erase the image from my mind - not that I've wanted to anyway. I hope to always be able to remember that between crying sessions, pouty fits and picky meals, my family is as about as perfect as they come. And no quantity of bad days will ever change that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Juggling babies: The transition from man to zone defense

Having three kids requires learning to juggle. But the
cargo is a little more precious than colored balls.
I'm pretty sure it was Confucius or some other wise philosophy type guy that once posited “When your third child you have transition to zone defense you must.”

The syntax makes me wonder if it was Yoda.

Who cares? I'm learning after our third child arrived last week just how true the principle is. Before, my wife would take one child and I would take the other, keeping mischief to a somewhat manageable minimum in the process. However, after my wife delivered our newest daughter with some complications, the man defense has been tossed. Now, my resting wife's zone happens to be a very large armchair with a sleeping infant on her chest. Since she's on doctor's orders to rest, relax and recuperate, I'm pretty OK with that, if not a little jealous.

Let's just say my zone covers a little more ground. Today, my zone starts in the kitchen, where the wife feeds me orders on how to cook up her favorite multi-ingredient oatmeal. She gives me the directions mostly from between snatches of slumber as she cuddles our snoozing baby daughter on her lap. It's the first time in history oatmeal has taken more than six minutes to prepare. I think I take an hour and burn the bottom layer. The process is something like this:

Me: What do I do here?
Her: Umm...zzzzzz
Me: Yes?
I wait five minutes, then remind her I asked a question while gently awakening her with a hand on her arm. Breakfast is her request after all.
Her: Oh sorry. One cup oatmeal and one cup water.
I pour oatmeal in the scalding hot pan and watch smoke drift dangerously close to the fire alarm. Then I add water.
Her: Bring the water to a boil before you add the oatmeal.
Me (to self): Now she tells me.
Me (to her): Then what?
Her: Get some Craisins and put them in after the oatmeal softens up.
Me: Where are they?
Her: Buried in the pantry somewhere.
Me (to self): I gotta go into that mess? We've only got like nine square feet of space in there under our staircase, which means the roof is widely variable in height, and we have six months of food storage crammed in there.
I find the Craisins stashed behind a box of graham crackers which is behind a can of unsalted peanuts which is underneath a 50-pound bag of rice.
Me: How many Craisins?
Her: Like a handful.
Me (to self): Does she mean a me-size handful or a her-size handful or a kid-size handful? These are hugely varying portion sizes in our household. I try to guess what her hand would pull out of the bag and scatter the Craisins into the oatmeal like a farmer tossing seed around a fertile field.
Me: Is that it?
Her: No. Two tablespoons brown sugar, a dash of vanilla, the rest of the can of evaporated milk and chopped walnuts. Use the small food processor.
I pour in the can of milk and realize I've drowned the poor oatmeal.
Me: Is it supposed to look like a few grains of oatmeal are throwing a pool party under a cow's udder?
Her: Add the other ingredients and see what happens.
I dutifully toss in everything else. Now it looks like the oatmeal invited some risque walnuts going shell-less at the milky pool party.
Me: Should I add more oatmeal now?
She's back to sleep so I repeat the question.
Her: If it's runny add just a little.
I wonder if the pool party counts as runny before I toss some more uninvited guests into the ruckus. It luckily thickens up and I feed it to my wife. Somehow she approves.

Long tangent aside, the kids aren't awake for the cooking time, or it would triple my already ridiculous time in the kitchen. When they do wake up my zone becomes feeding the two kids who don't want food while my wife occupies her big comfy chair snuggling seven pounds of perfection. Not that I'm complaining. I saw what she went through this week between childbirth and complications. The chair is hers dangit.

Then my zone shifts outside where I take the kids to the park. I get steamrolled, grass-stained, jumped on, slid upon and more. My kids ask me to climb the playground equipment in a different place, which means doing it all with upper body strength. I dutifully ratchet myself up some bars going across a bridge, only to find I have seriously strained some muscles in my neck and shoulders, giving me the equivalent of a kinked neck after a week of camping on sharp granite boulders without a pillow.

Park time is over, but the zone defense has only just begun. Returning home, I fertilize the lawn while doing my best to keep stray children from swallowing the weed pesticides in the lawn feed because they look like yellow Nerds.

Then my zone hops in the swagger wagon and goes to the store. My kids beg to get their own little grocery carts to help me pick up a grand total of four items. I relent, thinking I can manage for just four items. I rejoice when all the small carts are gone from their normal keeping place. This is the last time I'll rejoice before bedtime in my zone. My kids then proceed to profusely ignore me as I ask them to follow me into or out of the pharmaceutical section, where the kid vitamins and tiny colorful bottles are kept at my older daughter's eye level. Then I have to make a trip to the baby aisle, where my daughter wants to check out the Cinderella sippies. My son sprints around the corner and out of sight as I call him to come back. I decide at that point he's just going to have to get abducted or find me again on his own time. A couple minutes later I hear him whining for Daddy two aisles down. Finally figured out he ditched me and I had stopped chasing him. The baby aisle only has one of two items I need, so I return to the pharmaceuticals to find the missing link. Nothing but a bunch of colorful eye-level bottles for my girl. I think about stepping in line to talk to the pharmacist about where to find it, but the line is filled with about six women who look like they are there to fill out prescriptions for STDs.

I then wander the store trying to remember the last item on my list and to find an associate that can tell me where to find the other thing. I call my wife to remember item #4 and tell her I already want to throw my phone across the store. At some points, I want to just drag the minions behind me, but my kinked neck hurts so much I can barely turn around to find them much less actually carry them behind me. I look like a sideways hunchback with my neck cocked to one side grotesquely. While I try to usher my daughter away from the cute little bottles, of which she wants to know the contents of every one, she informs me she needs to go poopy. Now.

Exasperated, I toss the two items I had managed to find on top of some feminine hygiene products and race my daughter into the bathroom, where someone had viciously sprayed the entire seat with man urine.

“Are you serious?” I say out loud. My daughter takes my exclamation up as a chant and turns it into a song, altering the words to her own as time goes on. “Are you serious, are you serious, are you pear hook, are you bear head...” etc. It's actually really cute, especially when combined with the potty stalling dance she's doing. So while she sings I do a quick wipe down on the toilet seat with a wad of toilet paper fat enough to choke Rosie O'Donnell. I rocket the singing and dancing girl into place on a toilet protector hoping it'll do it's job.

When all is done there – I won't go into detail – I go back and pick up my two items off the feminine hygiene shelf and usher my children off to find a store rep. I wander the whole store looking for someone available to tell me where the heck to find the item. No luck. I go back to the pharmacy (none of this is as easy as I make it sound – remember, two rambunctious children.) The line has dwindled and filled with old men instead of STD magnets, so I step in line and let my kids peruse baby shampoo while I wait. I get to the front of the line to be told by a crotchety pharmacist they don't know where anything outside their “box” is. He motions me toward the customer service department.

“There's a customer service department?” I ask him incredulously, practically slapping my forehead at my own scatter-brained idiocy. I go there. Two Russian associates seem to be flirting at the customer service desk. I interrupt without tact, asking for the rather unflattering, post-pregnancy item I'm looking for.

“If we have that it'd be in aisle 4,” she tells me.

“Nope,” I tell her confidently. “Just spent a half hour or more there.”

The flirty guy tells me just last week he was stymied when some woman asked for the same thing. Probably one of our friends. This enrages me because it means a trip to another store. One with toys. My kids like toys. I storm out of the store with three of my four items and get blown off when I ask my kids to hold my hands through the busy parking area. My daughter almost gets squished because of her refusal. I finally ignore my pain and bodily heft my kids off the pavement and throw them in the van. They throw a party in the backseat instead of obeying me when I ask them to get in their seats. I finally place them both, screaming, into their car seats.

I'm amazed by this point I have had the wherewithal to avoid making child-shaped holes in any walls. This is somehow worse than another time I went shopping.

I take them to the other store and, having learned from experience, I put them in a cart and wheel them directly to the baby portion of the store, where I find the item immediately. My kids want to see toys. I take them to the toys. I spend a long time at the toys. I haul kids whining about me not buying them toys away from the toys. I pick up an enormous plastic jar of comfort food on the way to the checkout. When we make it to the car, the kids again get their fiesta on in back. Not wanting to chase them down with a sore neck in a cramped space, I do the only logical thing I can think of: I tell them I'm leaving and start to drive. Like mice sniffing cheese at the maze's end, they scurry to their seats, where I can then buckle them into place for the final push into the endzone.

Upon arrival at home, I feed them a hasty dinner of cinnamon toast and put them to bed alone while my wife cuddles our infant daughter on the couch, mostly asleep.

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, zone defense is a lot harder to play than man. I just hope it isn't like this every day, or I'll find a way to switch back to man, no matter what Yoda has to say.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Goldernit: Cottonpickin' prospectors ain't got a right proper vocab

Cottonpickin' prospectors all look alike.
This prolly ain't the one I met, but sure looks
the spittin' image.
The visit started innocuous enough, but it got weird real quick.

"How you doing this afternoon?" I asked the man with a gray handle-bar mustache that attached right into his sideburns. He had just walked in to the fine art gallery where I work most days.

"Eh?" he responded, one eye bigger than the other as he cupped a hand around his ear.

I repeated myself a little louder.

" 'ell on a sca' o' one uh teh-yen, I reckon roun'abouts six an' se'en aiths."

I filtered the melee of wordish thingies through my universal translator and thought he said: "6 and 7/8." I went with it.

"I like how precise you are," I told him.

"Tha'sa wuh-ay uh be," he spewed like a computer attempting to read Swahili.

"Let me know if you have any questions." This was my way of dismissing myself from a conversation in which I was pretty sure I'd be the only one speaking English.

He immediately began coddling the wood work of one of my artists, telling me it was "mahty fahn" over and over again. Before long, my brother who I work with came into the conversation, asking if the man was finding everything all right.

"Eh?" he asked again. After my brother repeated himself a little louder, the man decided us gallery guys could probably help him with his dream.

"You woodint heeappuhn uh know wheres ah could find mahself a lid fer mah mercureetort?" he asked like we would know what in the heck he just said.

"A what?"

"Mercuree-eetort," he enunciated. Running it through the translator and asking for spelling, we finally figured out he was asking for a new lid for a mercury retort. We still had no flippin' idea what he was talking about.

"Ah wuz uhfrehd o' tha'," he said. "Ain't one eein teh-yen peeple I talks to what knows what a mercureetort eeis."

I silently marveled at how well he could slur together mercury and retort. I was starting to understand this guy, though I still wasn't fully convinced he was spouting English from his talk hole. He could make three syllables out of one and one syllable out of five. Ain't no way to fake an accent like that, goldernit.

After a quick Google search, my brother brought up pics of real live mercury retorts to confirm what the man was looking for. It turns out a mercury retort is a prospector's tool used to strip mercury of its impurities so you can use it to amalgamate gold flecks into nuggets, as I understand it. Click here if you want an actual doctor's explanation of this. After meeting this fellow that came right out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon, I have a hard time believing a doctor wants to be a prospector, but there's the proof right there.

Anyway, when we showed Yosemite Sam the mercury retorts on the screen, he lit up like a shiny gold nugget.

"Them's mahty fahn stuff," he said, ogling the computer screen filled with ugly metal pipes like a teenaged boy might view more, um, questionable portions of the Internet. (I double-dog dare you to click that link...)

"Lookithere," he kept saying in absolute awe of what he was seeing while pointing at the computer screen. "Cottonpickin' lookithere." Yes. He actually said cottonpickin'. Repeatedly. He even fit a "goldernit" into conversation, fitting the holy trifecta of prospector swearing into our brief conversation: daggum, cottonpickin' and goldernit.  I think "cottonpickin' was the word I heard out of his mouth more than any other during our "conversation."

When my bro asked which one in specific he wanted him to look at, the prospector had high praise for the whole screen.

"All-oh-i's good," he said. "Them's mahty fahn newfangled mercureetorts. Nah-yow, you says all them's jee-ust on thee-at Google thang? Daggum, I'ma hafta steal mah wahf's compyuooter! Ah could look at them thar mercureetorts all day!"

I'm not even making this stuff up. This is an actual experience. I have witnesses, half of them sane even.

Craziest of all, the guy almost bought a bronze from us after eying those retorts. I was surprised to know that someone I could hardly understand would find pleasure in art. Turns out the guy is a welder by trade, but loves to prospect by night, or vacation or whatever. He had a wad of $100 bills in his pocket nearly two inches thick, and complained to us that "Iffen I bought that, ah'd barely be able to make it to Coloradee, much less home agee-uhn." We're guessing the guy distrusts banks, so pretty much carries his life in his pocket and a bunch of small glass vials filled with gold flecks. His goal was to make it to "Coloradee" because he was sure he'd find a lid for his mercury retort there, what with all the mines and such in ghost towns down there.

It may sound like I'm making fun of this guy. I may be making fun of this guy. But I frankly liked him. He was engaging in the craziest way you can imagine. I didn't know people like him existed outside of cartoons, but goldernit, I'm glad they do. It makes my life a little bit more golden as I see the colorful characters that cartoons are made of.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Seven pounds of perfection: Welcoming a new baby to the world

Who wouldn't want toes this perfect?

I can think of no better way to describe my new daughter to you. One word encompasses so much I can't even fathom it. Her tiny toe bubbles make my heart melt. The dimples on the back of her hands make my mouth form a silent "Ohhh" when she's sleeping in my arms. The dimples on her chubby face are even better.

She already has more hair than me, but that's because of this. Her dark hair is a departure from the two blondies I started out with. I love it. After three days with her as a part of my life, I love her in ways only a parent can understand. As my mother puts it, our daughter came into the world "trailing clouds of glory." The clouds were tailing her with good reason. How can you beat perfection?

She represents all that is important to me. We come into life perfect. We strive to leave it perfect. We just mar the perfection along the way. It is sad to me that at some point in the future, my daughter will be less than perfect. It kills me to know that choices she will someday make will cause those clouds of glory return to heaven to follow the next perfect baby down instead.

This thought makes me want to be a better man. How could I possibly let her become less than perfect? How can I keep her as perfect as possible without attaining perfection myself? In a major irony, I hold in my arms a perfect example of all that we should be. As the parent, I should be the example. But that's like trying to be an example to Christ himself. She'll learn from me. No doubt about that. She'll love me. I'll make sure of that. She will love playing with her daddy. I've already set the precedent there with my first two kids.

But she'll see my shortcomings, because I still have plenty. I cannot think of a stronger motivator for repentance and striving to live a perfect life than holding seven pounds of perfection in my arms. Her heavy eyelids rarely open, but that doesn't keep me from being able to see the halo blazing above her head. When she does manage to prop her eyes open, I can't believe the depth of life I see in her. Newborns are just that: newly born. They have a minuscule, uncoordinated body, but looking into their eyes tells it is not the beginning of all they know. Just a new beginning. A new body. A fresh start. Perfection, for a while.

We all have the chance to attain perfection, or else there wouldn't be a commandment telling us to be perfect. We have all been perfect at some point. There is no reason we cannot attain that again. We just have to work at it a lot harder than those babies who just crossed the veil.

Fatherhood and motherhood are the fastest, most effective ways to achieve that. With three kids, I can assure you I haven't attained perfection, but as a parent you get a small glimpse into what God sees. And that is worth a trillion sermons. If a picture speaks a thousand words and a toddler speaks a hundred words, a baby preaches the whole gospel just by coming to your home. All from seven pounds of purity.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flashback to childhood: Why kids don't like chores

It's easy to take the easy way out when
doing chores, and kids know it.
As I was voluntarily doing the dishes tonight for my 9-months pregnant wife, I had a flashback to by childhood. Tonight, the table was littered with enough crumbs to feed all the mice in the long grass behind our house for a week. This is actually a normal scenario in my household with the two self-feeding tornadoes I call my kids.

But as I was finishing emptying the sink, I had a heck of a time convincing myself to wash the tables and counter down. First I thought my wife would think I had done enough because I already did the dishes. But I looked at the table, knowing I didn't want my pregnant wife to have to do it. I still had to actively campaign against myself to choose the right.

Even as I took the rag and began to wipe the table, a wicked little thought hit: I could wipe all the crumbs onto the ground and not have to carry a mass of bread mush back to the sink. The wife wouldn't be the wiser since she expects to need to sweep after every meal, courtesy our children.

As I had this wicked little thought, I flashed back to my childhood, when I always just did the lazy thing, brushing crumbs from counters and tables onto the floor where it was no longer my problem. I can remember countless discussions with my parents about how to sweep the icky-nasty crumbs into my palm to carry over to the trash (trash compactors didn't exist back then, to my knowledge.) I knew how to do it, but my child's mind just rationalized naughtily that if I continued to do it wrong, one of two things would happen: 1. Nothing. 2. I would stop getting asked to do that chore. After all, I was young enough that my parents could actually believe I wasn't capable of doing it right, right?

Back then, it wasn't so much about getting out of work as it was about touching someone else's food particles. The concept just didn't appeal to me. Especially since the moist rag would turn it into a mush that felt like gooey oatmeal inside the rag, which I then had to clean out in the sink.

Not to say I didn't have my lazy streak. We washed all pots and pans (the big dishes, we called them) by hand. Nothing coated with Teflon touched the washing machine. So when it was my turn to wash the big dishes, I did a really cruddy job. On purpose. Because I didn't like it. And knew my Mom would just do it if I didn't. I'm pretty sure I left greasy streaks, bits of meat and entire spaghetti noodles still stuck to the bottom of the pan in the dishes I pronounced clean. Then when I got confronted on the crapitude of my work, I used this incredibly valid excuse: "I don't know how to do the big dishes." This was usually followed by a lengthy lesson on how to wash pots and pans satisfactorily. I knew how to do it. I was a smart kid. Did my parents buy that I didn't know how? No. I'm sure of that, in retrospect.

But my good-natured mother just took over when I let some slack in the reins, and yes, even stopped asking me to perform the chores on which my performance was an enormous bit of theater performance.

So sometimes the kids don't want to do the chores for reasons they don't state, like me with the mushy crumbs. And other times, they will convince you they don't know how to do a chore they can do adequately just to wear you down.

Don't let it happen. The kids are smart, but you still probably realize what they're doing. Don't pretend like you're falling for the routine. You know your kids. Give them the benefit of the doubt, when possible, but don't let them feed you excuses that an elephant couldn't swallow. You'll get a kid that will more often do things he/she doesn't want to do just because you asked.

How do you keep your kids honest about chore performance?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Should I shave my head or not? Randomness I have learned from going naked up top

It may not be perfect, but it's not bad either.
As my hair has started looking less like a shag carpet and more like a teenager's beard, I have many times wanted to shave my head. Looking at my huge, kinda funny-shaped head in the mirror usually talked me out of it. Not to mention the frequent protestations from the wife department.

But recently, when the rim of my head started resembling Bozo the Clown after dying his hair dark brown I realized I just needed to get my hair cut – fast. So I got out my shaver and set it to 3. Reasonable length, something left to keep me company, but short enough to be out of my way. I got done and it wasn't enough. I wanted low maintenance. I dialed the shaver down to 1. I put a stripe across the side of my head and realized I had accidentally committed myself to premature baldness. So without telling my wife, I buzzed my head and then shaved it with a razor. Here is what I've learned since then.

  1. Bald heads make wives cry: At least mine did. I told her she could shave her head too if she wanted. She cried harder. I backed off to letting her get her haircut, something she had wanted to do for a while. I think that made her feel a little better, but she mostly just looked sadly at my bare bonehead.
  2. I must have already been bald: Amazingly few people have commented on my new haircut. I'm starting to wonder if I'm the only one that noticed there was a little hair on my head before I shaved it off. I really expected more from people, like Nazi skinhead jokes or something. Nothing. I really was bald. Dang.
  3. Thinning hair is easier to shave than thickening hair: It was a whole lot easier to shave my head than it has been for some time to shave my beard. I thought I would probably cut myself and bleed my brain dry, but apparently the blood already left my skull ages ago. Not even a nick. I think I can attribute this to the fact that my hair has been losing weight since I was a teenager while my facial hair has gotten obese. This is probably why many of the hairs don't even fit back out their own skin holes after a razor shave and just grow in coils in pus pockets on my neck until the little blighters pop out like an inch-long jack-in-the-box. Gross, I know. Sorry I subjected you to that unnecessary bodily information.
  4. Hair is an amazing insulator: Ever had a sibling sneak into the shower and dump cold water on you while your back was turned? Well, that's about what it feels like every time I go outside in the rain now. Which has been just about every day since I shaved my head. Every cold raindrop is a little pinprick of ice which makes me shiver. And I really didn't have all that much blocking raindrops before, mind you. I've even shivered going to bed a couple times, and my temperature scale runs hot.
  5. Hair is an amazing insulator: I know. It says the same thing as the last one. But this time I'm talking about heat. I work in a gallery with lots of heat-generating lights. When I walk underneath them now, my head feels like it passed inches from the sun. I can literally feel a painful heat walking underneath lights. Go figure.
  6. Skin that has never met the sun burns easily: I think I'm really glad I never figured this one out at a nude beach. I spent three hours outside on a partly cloudy day soon after going cue ball and realized I'd changed the cue ball into a 3 ball. Totally not something I was expecting. I haven't been able to shave my head since. The pain would just be too great. Heck, laying on a pillow at night is painful. I need something softer...
  7. My kids think I look funny: The morning I shaved my head, I came down to present myself to the audience downstairs. My daughter, quick to observe, pointed and shouted in a laughing voice, “You don't has hair anymore!” For the first few days she repeated this mantra every time she saw me. I think they're getting used to it now, but having my kids laugh every time they saw me was a bit of a downer.
  8. Of course my driver's license needs renewal: Yes, I got my license renewed with the newly naked noggin. This may be a good thing if, in the future I get in trouble with the law and they're looking for someone matching my license photo, someone that looks like a peeled Mr. Potato Head with eyeballs. When they see me, a mild-mannered man with thinning hair, they'll have no idea I'm the culprit.
  9. Rubbing a bald head isn't good luck: But it is fun. I can see why the tradition caught on. There's something soothing about rubbing the squeaky flesh up there that just releases positive endorphins. No doubt about that. And it's not too bad when the hair grows back either. But...
  10. Hair growing back is like Velcro: Not the soft, squishy side – the mean, hooked side. When I throw a T-shirt on over my cerebral 5 o'clock shadow, it's like trying to drag a grape across sandpaper unscathed. Little bits of my shirt cling to my head desperately, trying their darnedest to stay inside the shirt, presumably for warmth – see 4.
  11. Short hair is lower maintenance than no hair: Shaving your head takes time. Especially with a head as gargantuan as mine. And it needs to be done at least once every few days to keep the freshly shaved look. With short hair, you can pretty much just wake up and go to work if you want to until it grows long enough to give you bedhead in the mornings.
  12. I actually kind of like the look: It took a few days to adjust, but now that my hair is growing back I'm almost disappointed. Maybe that's just because I can tell how much thicker the side hair is coming in compared to the top hair, but I really got used to seeing the smooth, shiny planetoid that is my head in the mirror every morning. But I'm sure my wife is pleased it's (mostly) growing back

Take it or leave it, this is my advice for anyone that wants to shave their head: It's a mixed bag. Though I thought I would hate it – and in some ways I do – the people that once said they would openly mock me if I shaved my head have ended up, well, liking it. It surprised me and it may surprise you too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The view from behind God's door: Holding the door shut so we can progress

God's view of our life is a little clearer than our view of His. Yet we still
question his decisions for us constantly.
Last night, we went to my parent's house for dinner. This is always something my kids look forward to, peppering us with questions like, "Are we going to Grandma's house?" Then the excited squeal breaks out with the followup question: "Again?"

While we go for the food and the company, they go for the company and the toys. As if they have a choice anyway. But lately, we've had some severe discipline issues when we tell them it's time to leave Grandma's house. The very literal kicking and screaming begins in earnest.

This isn't a problem we've had to deal with a lot with our children. They are generally pretty even tempered. Our kids know if they want to cry they have to do it in their room where no one can hear them. Our 2-year old daughter is so accustomed to this routine that she'll sag her shoulders after her brother's offended her, cast her eyes down with an expert flick, jut her lip out like an icebreaker and run to her room whether there're icebergs in the hall blocking her way or not.

This melodramatic performance makes us laugh every time, but we do so as silently as possible so as not to reinforce the behavior. The nice thing is, we usually go and get her a few minutes later and she's happily playing by herself with some toys in the room by that point.

At Grandma's house, though, we have no system set up like that. Instead, when our 3-year-old boy began his fit about leaving, I put him in a spare bedroom and closed the door behind him. Since, like most good bedroom door locks, it locked from the inside instead of the outside, I had to hold the door to keep the little werewolf from busting the door down in his rage. I listened, sadly, as he pounded against the door, cried and screamed while I just kept holding the door closed. It was for the good of everyone in the house. Especially my son, in the long run. Any positive reinforcement for behavior like that sets the course for a lifetime of parents being trampled by tiny feet. But he hated the treatment. I may be the only one it was harder on than him. Though most of his tears were tears of frustration, I heard some real pain in his voice.

I stared at the door handle I was holding shut while it bounced and jiggled under my hand. My eyebrows arched in concern and my heart softened as he tried to get out - the way he thought was best for himself. It was hugely painful for me as a father to discipline in such a way I knew would bring the best results for everyone in the future.

As I held that door shut, I wondered what the view from behind God's door must look like. 6 billion kids, many of them trying to kill each other, all of them looking for answers to their pleas for help. How often must he hold the door shut on us, his children, so that we'll grow in the right directions? The answers to prayer usually come as "yes," "no," or "not yet." But when we so desperately want something, what must it be like for a loving Father in heaven to say "no" while holding the door shut on what we see as a way forward - maybe even the only way forward?

I don't envy His position. My own problems with basic discipline pale in comparison to Him having to tell someone "no" to a life-changing proposition. In the end, He knows best. He knows our strengths, weaknesses and time lines. When He holds doors shut on us, there is a reason for it. And we, the kicking and screaming 3-year-olds behind the closed door, too often ask why He doesn't care while He's holding us against our will.

Maybe the questions we should ask ourselves instead are: "Why is God holding this door shut? What door would he rather that I open? How can I go about opening that door?" If we but understand that 1. Heavenly Father loves us and 2. He is omniscient, we can see that He will chart our lives for our best if we allow Him. But if we keep kicking and screaming, sometimes He'll open doors that should never be opened to us to begin with.

When I finally opened the door to my son's tear-stained face, I did my best to explain why I did what I did. Then I took him in my arms as gently as I could and told him I loved him. When God holds those doors shut so that we can grow, don't lash out at Him. Let him show you His love. Watch for it. Ask for it. You'll feel it. Our understanding of His plan for us will eventually materialize, just maybe not on our time frame.

Have you ever felt like God held a door shut on you that you really wanted open only to find out why He did so later on in life?