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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Definition of an Apparent Parent AKA Jungle Gym Parents Unite!

Being an "apparent parent" means involving
your children, no matter how tired it
makes you - and the children.
When my kids are awake, my 6-foot-5 frame converts into monkey bars, a climbing rope, a jungle gym, a slide, a rocking horse (or a walking horse if I'm not too tired), a swing set, a particle accelerator and more. The short way of saying that is my kids crawl all over me as a substitute for the playground I won't buy them. Within a few seconds of walking through the door from work most nights, my daughter will usually say, "I want a ride," while my son says, "I want to wrestle you on my bed."

Oddly, these things cannot be done simultaneously. So I do them in rapid succession. I swing the children onto my back and begin the grueling crawl into their bedroom. I start in the carpeted living area but soon transition to the wooden portion of the floor which leads down the long hall - haul? - to their bedroom. My knees refuse to participate in this part. I weigh 200+ pounds without two kids clinging to my back, neck and shoulders while draping their security blankets across my vision. So the added weight and awkwardness of balancing two children that have known how to walk for less time than it took Lady Gaga to burn her hideous name and personality into the soul of America makes it uncomfortable to crawl on wood in my customary shorts.

That was definitely a run-on sentence. But I like it.

So I end up scurrying down the hall in a bear crawl (anyone remember those from football practice?) with my homemade weight set clinging to my back or face as the case may be. It's great calisthenics, but it's tiring. Then I dump both kids on my son's bed and proceed to wrestle with the children. This usually involves me tossing the kids around like crash test dummies while they laugh uncontrollably. Then when I stop, they ruthlessly tackle me until I start again. Then, when I tire of the crash-test routine - heaven knows they never do - I break out the "spiders." My hands turn into the spindly little creatures that have to crawl all over the most ticklish parts of the children. More laughter comes between statements like "I want to squish the spiders!" coming from the kids.

Why play on the playground when you have a
perfectly good daddy to slide down, tumble on,
tackle, swing around on and harass?
Then we'll often move into Jack-and-the-Beanstalk mode. This is where one kid is the giant and the rest of us are Jack cowering under a blanket so the giant won't find us. In fact, it was during one of these games that my daughter learned one of her first words before she even turned 9 months old. "Hide, hide, hide, hide," she would say with a grin as we draped blankets over our head. Nowadays, it's more like a frantic, "Daddy, we need to hide so brother won't eat us."  And as we get under the blanket, brother comes stomping in roaring, "Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an English bum. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread." I'm always surprised how much violence he can get behind those words. Then after he tackles my head (always my head - particularly annoying when you wear glasses) under the blankets, the kids switch positions and the game repeats itself until the kids tire or figure out something else that's fun to do.

Anyway, that kind of rough-and-tumble interaction just doesn't happen with every parent out there. And I think it's important. Heck, I'm the first to admit that it's easier to watch TV, play a video game, bust out a sudoku book or build a nuclear reactor with your thumbs duct taped together than be an "apparent parent." But interacting, talking and showing love by just paying attention to the little critters is what makes someone an "apparent parent." It is obvious that I am the parent of my children. I still have my fair share of "not right nows" and "wait a minute, Daddy's talking to Mommy"s, but my kids know they can generally get my attention if they want it.

My dad once told me something that is way too true in many instances. He said, "Mothers cook, clean, play, color with crayons, change diapers, read books, sing songs, teach lessons and generally interact with their children all day. Fathers are vaguely aware there's some little people running around the house."

I don't want to be that kind of father. An "apparent parent" will be called "Daddy" by his children long after his children's friends have stopped calling their parents by that sacred title. I don't want to be father or dad. I want to be "Daddy." A lot of love comes through in that word. An "apparent parent" knows what's happening in their kid's life. Kids are an integral part of that parent's life. Some parents would rather they never had children. An "apparent parent" loves the fact that he has someone to call him "Daddy."

What does "apparent parent" mean to you?

When Mommy's away, the Daddy will play - unless he's locked out of his house in shorts and T-shirt with a former U.S. Marshal

Leading a former U.S. marshal packing heat with a laser
sight can't possibly be a good idea. Or can it?

My wife took our two children to her family's ranch in southern Wyoming yesterday. We only have one car right now while the other one takes its job of gathering snow and occupying a parking spot on our neighborhood's road seriously. So when she dropped me off at work, none of us had really thought about the fact that she'd be taking with her the keys to the house on the car key chain.

Oops. In the meantime, I picked up a story for our local newspaper last night about a gun club celebrating the 1911 Colt .45's 100th birthday. It was carpet-moving and painting day at work, so I had dressed accordingly - shorts, T-shirt and sandals, despite the mounds of snow that are still falling this spring in Jackson Hole. So when I got home with a borrowed car to change and go cover my story, I realized I was hosed when the door was locked. No hidden keys at our house, though I get locked out enough that we should have one.

Anyway, I manned up, went and bought some high-tech reporting supplies - pen and paper - and went to the gun club dressed for summer. The birthday-party goers were naturally curious about my attire, given the copious amounts of spring snow we have received. After relating the story to a few people while questioning them on why they showed up at a gun's birthday party, one man stepped up to my shattered plate.

"You want help with that?" he said, pulling out what looked like a folded-up knife from his pocket. I looked at his outstretched hand, confused by why a knife could solve my problems - apparently weapons can solve a lot of problems in the gun club.

He caught my confusion and pulled out what I thought would be a blade. "This is a professional lock-picking set," he said, withdrawing various implements from the tool's belly.

"You serious?" I asked. He assured me he would love to help, and just to flag him down when I was done with the party coverage.

"I carry these things around in case I can help someone," he said. He told me later he used to earn steak dinners from his neighbors when he helped them get in to their houses. I offered him the same treatment, which he kindly refused. Blown away by the man's generosity for a complete stranger, I went out of my way to get to know him during the event. The guy was a pharmacist recruited by the army and trained in various programs - including lockpicking.

"They teach us how to be burglars in the army," he told me. As if the army needs to use subtlety. Whatever the case, he got the training on taxpayers' dime and still uses his abilities to help out the average taxpayer, i.e. me. After his time and training with the army, he went into the U.S. Marshals, where he stayed for 20 years before retiring.

The party consisted of an IDPA shooting course with lovingly held 1911 Colts of various makes with ammo donated from local outdoors outfitters. One guy even let me borrow his gun for the event so I could shoot too. Something fun about trying to hit three targets as fast as you can from behind a wire barricade with a large-caliber handgun. Following the shooting course, we all went in and sang "Happy birthday dear nine-teen-e-lev-en!" and ate cake and ice cream. I had a blast with those gun enthusiasts, no pun intended.

So after the birthday party, I led the U.S. Marshal to my house 10 miles away, which he didn't begrudge me at all. He just wanted to help. There was a brief moment where I wondered what I was doing leading a former U.S. Marshal driving a black Tahoe to my house who was packing heat with a laser sight and a set of lock picks in his pocket. The moment passed and I led him up on my doorstep where he got down on one knee in fresh snow on my porch and went about trying to break into my house while I held a flashlight for him.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, my lock held firm under his probings, which made him declare "Either I'm losing my touch or you have a great lock." He then told me there was a time when he could brag there wasn't a safe or lock in the world that could keep him out. Comforting that our army personnel have that kind of training.

I graciously thanked him, and as we parted ways he told me about his gun collection: machine guns with suppressors (silencers are probably what you know them as), shotguns and sniper rifles. He even told me he'd let me shoot his machine gun at the range.

"You know, everyone thinks these guns are illegal," he said. "You just have to have valid permission to use them."

And that is how I led a machine gun-owning, lock-picking, laser-sighting former U.S. Marshal to my house - on purpose. The guy's a patriot in my book. I have always been pro gun, but after meeting a roomful of gun owners and hanging out with them for a couple hours, I have new respect for people who love guns.

What do you say? Would you have led a guy with a set of lock picks in his pocket to your house after meeting him at a gun's birthday party?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The parental definition of "sleeping in"

As I rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to go help the pitter-pattering feet downstairs use the potty, I was surprisingly thankful for the sleep-in.

Yes, I called 5:30 a "sleep-in." Lately, the bare feet have been running down the hall at between 2 and 4 in the morning, so 5:30 was a blessed reprieve. I hope the day comes when 11 is a sleep-in again, but I think that's not really plausible considering I'm going to relinquish all nighttime sleeping rights to my wife when our third child comes in June. Putting that differently, I'd say she'll have smaller matters to worry about at 2 a.m. when my charges escape for potty breaks. In even other words, she has refused to take a rotation on the other kids at night when she'll be the only one capable of feeding the smallest one.

So I will now be in the position of parental graveyard shift every night, just like wifey. Woohoo!

Luckily, a recent adjustment we made has helped with the night wanderers. I found that most nights the children were more thirsty than anything, so I started leaving a glass of water by our daughter's bed. Unfortunately, that just exchanged one problem - water breaks - for another problem - potty breaks. Ah, the joys of parenthood.

So how do you help your 2- and 3-year olds sleep through the night?

How to be an awesome kid at church

My 3-year-old son was in primary at our church the other day singing songs at the top of his lungs with the rest of his class. After a group of songs, he let his Sunday school teachers know how well he sang: "I smoked those songs," he announced.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anytime Potty Training

Middle-of-the-night potty training is not made brighter by the
blinding colors of inane children books.
I tackle this topic reluctantly (can you tackle something with reluctance?) But as I was falling asleep on the bathroom floor at 4 a.m. the other morning I realized there are certain things to be aware of when potty training.

The chief among these is “let the kid go when she wants to go.” Unfortunately, that meant for me getting tackled (no reluctance) at 4 a.m. by a little girl wanting to use the potty. It was my night to be “middle-of-the-night parent,” so after rolling out of bed onto my knees I tackled my fatherly duties (reluctance.)
Escorting her to the bathroom, I found out she didn’t actually have to go. She just wanted to break a little wind while I read her inane book after inane book. Being confronted by a sunny, happy pile of Care Bear and Strawberry Shortcake books in the middle of the night is only a slight upgrade from waking up with a kink in your neck, a massive headache and a toothpick doused in cinnamon oil in your eye — don’t ask me how I know this.*

After 20 minutes of reading the lousiest trash I’ve ever read accompanied by pictures so bright they’d make an owl lose its night vision, I finally left the princess to her own devices on her pearly white throne. On the tile floor — at least it’s heated — I rolled into a fetal position and balled up my daughter’s silky pink blanket for a pillow.

Just as I got comfortable, an indignant shout roused me. “Daddy! You forgot to read that one!” My eyes fluttered open to see an accusing, miniature finger pointing at the last Care Bear book on the once sizable unread-potty-book pile.

That’s when I decided she was done tootin’ on the potty for the night. Motivated by sheer hatred for Love-A-Lot Bear, I plucked my daughter off the porcelain and paraded her back to her bedroom.

After this definitive action, I was sure to have peace the rest of the night. Until she wanted water, of course. Her shouts for water soon woke up her brother, who shares a bedroom with her. So when I rushed back downstairs to literally pour water on the shouting fire, I was welcomed by my son wandering out of the room. Through a thick haze, he said, “Daddy, her wants water.”

“Oh, great,” I said, not unaware of her loud desire for liquid.

I ended up spending the rest of the night awake with my kids, the whole time wishing to be asleep. They didn’t seem to share the sentiment. All because of potty training. The good news is that the porcelain princess is making impressive progress. The fact we are willing to drop anything to let her use the bathroom has made it possible for her to see how easy it can be and how important it is.

We started potty training only a couple weeks ago, and she is already sleeping dry through most nights, and makes it through most days without accidents. I find many of the accidents that do occur happen when she and I are in the throes of wrestling or some other full-attention activity. She just forgets she needs to go when she’s having fun.

She doesn’t, as you might have guessed, forget when it happens in the middle of the night. I get woken up at all hours to escort her to Pottyville. For me, this usually means sleepless nights while she thinks of every excuse in the book to get out of going back to sleep.

After a particularly trying potty experience at 2:30 the other morning, she came up to our room after two separate trips asking for water and her blankie to tell me she had a boogie on her finger she needed wiped off. I laughed despite being dead tired.

“You seriously came all the way up here to tell me that?” I asked.

“Yes,” came the timid reply, her eyes downcast.

I took care of the problem and sent her packing. She stopped in the doorway of our room and stood there for a few long moments, as if not sure she wanted to leave. After staring at her feet and then me for a while, she finally asked, “Daddy? Can I have rock-a-byes?”

The cuteness was just too much. I took her down to our comfy recliner where I cuddled the night away with my beautiful little potty-trained daughter.

As much as I hate some of the inconvenience of letting her go when she wants to, it has been miraculous to see how much just letting her go when she asks has helped. And for three short months until we meet our next daughter, this house will be gloriously diaper free.

*If you must know, I’ve experienced the kinked neck and headache, but only have an overactive imagination to consult on the toothpick.

What's your favorite potty training trick?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Age and Entitlement

A kid shouldn't necessarily get everything
he asks for, especially when it's almost
pure fat and gristle.
It seems the older a child gets, the more they feel entitled to. My 3-year-old documents this well with his current fascination with the number three. We made homemade pizza this evening, and when the pepperoni came out he let us know his rights: “I need three pepperonis, ‘cause I’m 3.”

Though he still pronounces 3 “sree,” this is just one bargaining chip the little genius has picked up to help him with his supposed entitlements. I’ll grant the kid “life, love and the pursuit of happiness,” but beyond Constitutional entitlements, the kid’s really not guaranteed a lot.

That doesn’t mean I don’t entreat him to some of his arguments. If I’m in a good mood, and I don’t think his requests are too far off base, I’ll usually grant them. Three big greasy pepperonis? Definitely needs to catch me in the right mood. Three M&M’s? I’ll usually hook him up. When he asked for three pieces of pizza after I sliced the finished product up, I told him no initially before I got my wicked parent grin on and sliced the single piece I’d already gotten him into three smaller pieces. The kid was happy and nothing really changed.

Problem is, he’s smart. For a 3-year-old kid, he puts up some pretty sophisticated arguments sometimes. I just envision myself in ten years when he’s a teenager and sounds like a mini prosecution lawyer when I don’t give him his way like I did when he was just 3 years old.

It’s that mental fast forward button I have that often makes me say “no” even when I think it’s harmless. I think establishing a role as a loving provider who is able to say “no” without questions asked is important when they’re young. If the guidelines are set when the child really has no say in outcomes, the guidelines are much more likely to stick into teenage years and beyond.

Saying “yes” too often to invalid arguments could land you in trouble. Though farcical, I think of a scenario with a teenage boy coming home and saying, “Dad, I need 16 cars.”

Me: laughs.
Kid: “This is serious, Dad.”
Me: “Everything is serious at your age. But fine, I’ll hear the nonsense argument you have.”
Kid: “Here goes. I need 16 cars because,” (bet you know what’s coming) “I’m 16.”
Me: Laughs uncontrollably. “Boy, that argument hardly ever worked back when you were little and cute. It’s not going to get you one car now, much less 16 of ‘em.”
Kid: “You’re ruining my life!”
Me: “That’s what you said when you turned 6 and I told you you couldn’t have 6 baseball gloves.”
Kid: “Really? I wanted 6 baseball gloves? I don’t even like baseball.”
Me: “You should probably stop liking cars too because this argument’s leading down the same road.”

Yeah I’m sure there’s no son that doesn’t belong to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie that would actually use that argument for 16 cars, but you see my point. A parent has the right to say “no” at any age to any request. By virtue of the fact we have raised the child the best we know how, we’ve earned that entitlement. But no age, whether 3 or 13, comes with an entitlement from parent to child.

So I guess my point is to know when to say “no” to a kid. Yeah, many requests are harmless, especially coming from the innocent mouth of a 3-year-old boy convinced that 3 pepperonis will make him grow big and strong like Daddy. But I don’t want to plant myself behind a wall of precedent where I find I can no longer reasonably say “no” to unreasonable requests from my children.

For a while, when we went to a certain store, we loved to see how our kids lit up when we got them a $1 Hot Wheels car every now and then. Pretty soon, we found we could no longer go to that store without them feeling like they got to walk out of the store with a brand new toy. The magic was lost to the spirit of entitlement. Saying “no” became difficult and I found I was becoming one of those parents I have always abhorred that will let their spoiled brats pick out a toy every time they are in a store.

Let’s just say this is not a pleasant corner to paint yourself into. We have since made severe course corrections, and have devised methods to make sure they know they are entitled to nothing at the store. So maybe next time your child comes to you with a request, ask yourself if it will put you in a scenario where giving in will become habitual. Maybe a “no” should come out, even if the kid is just asking for “sree gummy bears, ‘cause I’m sree.”

How do you combat child entitlement in your household?