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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Toenail clippings in your eye and other life lessons learned from having a 3-year-old boy cut your nails

Though allowing a 3-year-old boy to clip your nails may
sound like a really bad idea because it is, it also isn't.
Allowing a child that age to help you when they want to
will aid in producing a lifetime work ethic in the kid.
Odd things happen when you involve kids in routine tasks like...I dunno...fingernail clipping.

My wife made this mistake recently and let our 3-year-old son clip her fingernails and toenails for her. Let's just say it was no professional manicure/pedicure. Her ragged nail edges now catch on anything remotely fuzzy (including our daughter's hair), some of her nails will probably become ingrown because of this, and I'm pretty sure one clipping has set up camp somewhere in her brain – possibly in her medulla oblongata. With a name like that, it can't be all that important anyway. That's why I just call my brain “the thinker.” You know what a “thinker” does. It's straightforward, easy to remember, and I didn't even have to consult Wikipedia for the spelling – I'm looking at you medulla...

Anway, this happened when our son, in his excitement, clipped a piece of toenail with such enthusiasm that it sailed through the sky with a smile on its invisible face into my wife's awaiting eyeball, where no smile was present. Wanting to make itself at home, the stray clipping tucked itself under my wife's eyelid and marched upward out of sight. Trust me: this is hard to do when you're hiding on an eyeball.

After playing “Go Fish” in her eye for several minutes without so much as a nibble, she came to me hoping I could find the toenail shard with her eyelid cocked halfway back like that creepy kid in high school that walked around with his eyelids reversed. No bones. Or toenails, as the case may be.

So I'm certain the little bugger is snugly wrapped up in some nice folds of gray matter, probably gleaning plenty of information from my wife's brilliant brain through osmosis.

But all that's beside the point. The whole point I want to impress is that my wife threw away all care for herself in letting a 3-year-old boy cut her finger and toenails. This is the gender that has found many ways to set itself on fire while drunk, fall off of cliffs and survive (mostly), and successfully forget they even had fingernails until a woman pointed out how dry and cracked they were to him. And he's three. Did I mention that?

This may be slightly crazy to some people, but what it demonstrates is of utmost importance. We must allow our children to participate when they are willing, otherwise there will come a time when they no longer want to help.

I got in a friendly argument with a woman I know through work recently about how to instill a love of work in children. I posited that you need to let kids do chores while they are tiny and want to “help” you or they will never want to help you as a teenager or whatever. Her idea was basically that children are pathetic weaklings and should go nowhere near chores until they are capable of doing them right. She then told me how much her 14-year old boy hates working in the garden.

Hmmm...maybe because she never let him near the garden when he wanted to be “mommy's big helper.” Attitudes established early on will carry through childhood and most likely throughout life. And if we constantly tell kids they aren't wanted in the kitchen, the garden, or anywhere else that doesn't involve SpongeBob SquarePants doing idiotic things, than they will learn to stay away from those places for most of their lives.

So next time your kid asks to help cut your nails right after a professional manicure, just roll your eyes and let the kid go to town. You'll have a much better household helper for it, even if a wandering band of fingernail clippings does start to terrorize your medulla oblongata.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Family Home Evening - Easter style

The makeshift "tomb" for our Family Home Evening lesson
about Easter and the resurrection. I know, I know. It isn't
much to look at, but it was a great teaching tool.
We have Family Home Evening almost every Monday night. To those of you who aren't LDS, that means we have a little lesson about the gospel or family improvement and than do a fun family activity. This has been encouraged by our church for a lot of years and there's good reason for it.

Since the important side of Easter often gets swallowed up by the commercial side of Easter like, I don't know, Easter candy by ravenous orphans, we thought it fit to spend a little time on the resurrection for our FHE lesson tonight. (Self criticism: probably should have done this before  the Easter bunny came with barrels of goodies.) We use a nursery manual as the basic groundwork for most of our lessons, and it works really well.

But tonight, as I was reading over the lesson before delivering it, a brilliant thought struck me: Why not recreate the tomb somehow? The necessary tools came to my head quickly once the thought blasted into my gray matter. Sizable cardboard box. Dusty exercise ball in garage. Photo of Jesus. Paper Towel. That is all.

So when I started to explain the resurrection to my kids, I could give them a visual experience much less forgettable than the standard primary presentation. The box was the tomb. (“Daddy, why is the box going to be a tomb?” “You'll see, just wait.” “But why Daddy?” *exasperated grunt*) The newly dusted ball was the large stone. I think you can guess about the photo, and the paper towel were the sheets they wrapped his body in before laying him in his (not) final resting place.

So I carefully explained how they dressed him in sheets, laying the paper towel over the picture of Christ before setting it in the “tomb.” Then I explained how they rolled the stone in front of the tomb to keep Christ's body from being desecrated. This is the fun part – the kids got to roll the stone into place over the tomb's mouth.

Then I told them after Christ lay dead in the tomb for three days, angels rolled away the stone. The kids got to be the angels, and happily pushed the “stone” off to the side. Then I explained how Mary came to find the tomb empty of all but the folded sheets they had wrapped around the Savior's body. My children were hugely attentive as I worked up to how Christ approached Mary and asked her why she was crying.

It was amazing to me to see how large even small attention spans can be when treating subject matter in unique ways. And I think my children ought to have a better understanding of Easter and the resurrection than they ever have before.

How do you teach Easter to your young children?

My eyes! Nintendo 3DS NOT suitable for children - or adults

Is it just me or am I seeing double? Playing the Nintendo 3DS
felt like trying to look at something stuck to my nose.
Allow me a geek moment. I have been interested in getting my hands on a Nintendo 3DS to test it out. For anybody that doesn't know what that is, it's basically the newest iteration of the Game Boy, but in a different stratosphere. Specifically, it features mind-bending, glasses-free 3D.

As a parent of two, I often look forward to video games when the kids drift off to sleep after hours of partying with each other in the backroom. It's something I can do quietly because the mute is almost always on when I play video games. However, sometimes I don't feel like having my 40" TV demanding my attention after the lights go out. So little screens are welcome at night.

However, Nintendo itself has warned that your eyeballs can have a bad hair day (let your imagination run wild with that mental image for a second) if you use the thing. When I got locked out of my house for three days while my wife was out of town with the keys, I was about to buy one of these $250 gadgets on an impulse, rationalizing that having a new toy would keep me out of trouble with the wife and kids out of town. But the only angelic voice I had in a sea of little red devils wanting a new gadget warned me I'd probably better try the thing out first.

I'm glad I did. I walked into Best Buy the other day and found a 9-year old child just finishing his tech demo with the shiny little blue device. Glad I didn't have to glare at him intimidatingly until he left it to me, I took it up and immediately felt my eyes go all wonky trying to read the 3D image on the top screen. It felt a little like crossing your eyes to look at a 3D dot art image, which were way cool in the early 90s, if I recall. I quickly found the depth slider on the right and adjusted it to where my eyes weren't screaming about having to look in so many directions at once.

The 3D image is crisp, but even adjusting to the most comfortable depth, it doesn't feel quite right. And of course, it's just a trick to make your eyes see two images at once. Apparently, my brain grasped this better than my eyeballs, and I felt a headache coming on quickly. Worst of all, jumping down to look at data on the lower screen really throws the eyes for a loop. You literally feel your eyes "shift" to see the 2-dimensional data. Yes, you can turn the 3D off entirely, but isn't that why you just spent $250 bones on the thing?

Sadly, I came away unimpressed with a minor headache after testing the thing for 15 minutes. In fact, I was seeing double for the next few minutes after I got off. My eyes just couldn't track as fast after playing with the thing. The good news? I don't have to spend $250 in the next little while. If the toy makes my adult head swim through the deep end so easily, I'd rather not even risk my kids getting their hands on something like that when they don't even know how to swim. Which is precisely why Nintendo issued the vision warning about the 3D for children under 6.

Having been a DS owner already, I know the powerful pull the little gadget had on little hands and eyes. So I think I'll skip bringing this one into a house where my kids love coloring on the DS. I think my kid's eyes will thank me for it. I'm pretty sure they'd develop lazy eyes or something worse if I let them play with it. I was halfway there myself just testing it out.

Besides, I can think of lots less expensive ways to get a headache.

Anyone else had a similar experience with this thing?

"Bugs don't eat me"

A horde of mosquitoes at rest await the next
unsuspecting shopper to strike.
When hiking last summer with our then 2-year-old son, we pointed out mosquitoes to him, warning them that if he didn't keep them away, they would try to eat him.

He paused on the trail for a minute to absorb this information before teaching us a lesson as he continued to walk down the trail.

"Bugs don't eat me," he said. "I'm too big. I don't fit in bugs' mouth."

We laughed and let him know he was right in part, but let him know the dangers of the little bloodsuckers. Usually a careful child, he seemed entirely nonplussed. Soon after this experience, he began pirating hangers from his closet. He calls the hangers mosquitoes (pronounced MOSS-kee-toes, heavy emphasis on moss) and chases us around with them. The behavior soon spread to our younger daughter as well. Persistent as they are, they remind me quite a bit of the real thing, but a lot cuter. Also, the actual pests don't announce themselves: "I'm a MOSS-kee-toe. I'm gonna eatcha!"

But wouldn't the world be a better place if they did.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to get your children to tell you they love you

“Daddy?”

The simple question hung like a tinkling bell in the air over my 2-year-old son's head. It stopped me from closing the door to his room after putting him to bed for the night.

“Yes?”

“I love you,” he followed up, more sugary than the dessert table at a Relief Society function. My heart drizzled down to my toes. I reopened the door and threw my arms around my little boy.

“I love you too,” I said as his arms tightened around my neck. “I love you too.”

This marked the first time he had ever gone out of his way to share that sentiment with me, though I had told him countless times. Worse yet, he constantly told Mommy how much he loved her. It grated on me.

I knew exactly why he had chosen that moment to tell me. He had just come home from a weekend at my wife's family's ranch, where he had gotten to see his beloved tractors in action. He now has three dang-near life-sized tractors that take up a good chunk of his room's footprint, and we now go out of our way to inform gift-givers “No more big toys! Please!” He loves those toys, but nowhere near as much as the real, drivable thing.

So after he came home and it was my turn to put him to bed, I seized the opportunity to get him talking about his trip. And boy did he ever jabber. I must have listened for 20 minutes while he gabbed – mostly incoherently – about the tractors and other experiences involving cows and mud that I couldn't quite piece together. He talked animatedly, with his hands telling the story better than his words sometimes. At one point, he was telling me how the tractor was rolling through the mud, and started making stirring motions with his hands. I listened and asked leading questions, smiling and nodding the whole time while wondering what the heck the kid was talking about.

It was only after this extended conversation that I finally got an unsolicited “I love you.” This was a powerful lesson to me. Talking to your children is incredibly important. He knew how much I loved him, I'd told him so many times and shown it in countless ways. But it wasn't until I let all the attention fall on him and his experiences that he wanted to tell me the same thing.

He was barely two years old, and had the propensity to talk a mile a minute, actually saying maybe one in every three words he actually paraded through his tiny cranium. So I understood very little of our 20-minute conversation, but the “I love you” was crystal clear.

It doesn't matter if you don't understand everything a child is saying – speaking with them from an early age is vitally important. It's proven to develop language capabilities, improve parent-child relationships, cut down on frustrated tantrums when they aren't understood, and most importantly show love rather than tell about it. Bantering with a child, encouraging conversation, and the natural corrections that occur during conversation will build a vocabulary (“We were on this part of the tractor that went up like this,” “Oh, a scoop?” “Yeah, we were on the tractor's scoop...”) and build a relationship.

In my opinion, there's things that have to start early or they may never happen. Just imagine trying to strike up a conversation with a teenager about the girl he likes in class if you never asked him what his favorite toy was when he was 3. Those pathways are vitally important, but difficult to stake out. A child's conversation may not be as enthralling as talking to a world traveler, but if you don't start beating a path through the brush when they are young, the path may never develop. Consequently, you'll be left with an overgrown, primitive, and unrecognizable path of communication with your child as he matures.

You will draw closer to your child by talking to him than even playing with him actively. At least the child will draw closer to you. That one-on-one time will help children know how to interact with adults, help them communicate more effectively, and most important, show them how much you care.

How do you communicate to your children who can barely talk?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Spring" at the park with two feet of snow

"Spring" in Jackson Hole, complete with two
feet of snow on the playground. Also,
sandals are a necessary spring accent.
Spring here in Jackson Hole has roared in like a lion. With it's mouth duct taped shut. And its mane shaved off. Underwater. In a solitary confinement chamber. In Antarctica.

Yeah, it's been one of those years. Just last week, we got more than 40 inches of snow in four days. You feeling me here yet? I guess you could just say it's winter right now on April 13. I expect to say the same of May 13 and maybe even June 13. Don't get me started on July.

Not that I'm complaining. The weatherman, however, is another story. Apparently, one of the local weather guys has gotten a lot of viewer complaints because he spends his three minutes whining about how bad the weather is. I'm pretty OK with the weather, but most people would like something more like, I don't know - spring?

So yesterday the sun was shining after some snow showers, a balmy 40-something degrees. No really - it felt balmy. So we went out to the park with the kids. Insisting it was spring, I wore my shorts, a T-shirt and a light, unzipped jacket with sandals. It felt beautiful. My daughter wore a mishmash outfit of blue jeans under a pink skirt with a green top under a red coat topped off (bottomed out?) with purple boots. My son, having seen the sun, insisted he didn't need a coat or anything, so he just wore his hooded track suit. Then we went outside.

Suddenly he wanted his coat.

Completely unstaged, our daughter grabbed
her brother'shand and they looked both
ways to cross the street to the park.
As we walked to the park, our daughter, 2, spontaneously offered her hand to her brother, 3, and they walked hand in hand down the neighborhood road toward the park. Some snow had melted off the expansive lawn, but large piles still stood around the marshy grass, and the playground itself had a good 24 inches still packed in there. We almost just walked right on by, continuing to the post office. But the kids bee-lined through the snow straight to their beloved playground equipment. Reluctant to follow through the snow in sandals, I watched from a distance as they climbed up through the slide.

My daughter, always ambitious, tried her hardest to go up the slanted tube, but found herself lacking, and began asking me for a push. Unable to resist, I tiptoed through the snow, only post-holing a couple times on my way. Toes reddened, I pushed her up the tube and followed her to the top. From there, I watched as the kids happily shimmied around the equipment. After every time they went down a slide, they would struggle through the snow to get back on. Several times, Daddy had to rescue a little girl stranded up to her knees in soft snow, which was cascading into the top of her boots. And this in sandals. Good times.

Our daughter even took a cue from the dogs that aren't supposed to be in the park and peed on a tree. It's OK, we were the only ones in the park. Shortly after the impromptu potty break from the girl who just can't hold it, the sun went down and we drug two reluctant children away from their summer fun in the snow.

So lousy spring weather doesn't mean you shouldn't treat it like spring. We even had a barbecue the other night just to show winter who was boss. The kids loved their time outside, even if they were dressed for winter.

What do you do when spring weather is lousy?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Turning party time back into bedtime

You have two kids. Your house has two bedrooms. That makes four people in an 1,100 square-foot house. The baby has outgrown the walk-in closet. You share a bedroom with your wife (for your sake I hope this is the case.) You have to face the inevitable mathematics. The kids are going to have to share a room too.

Dun, dun, DUHHH!

Dramatic pause.

That puts a nasty kink in bedtime, which formerly involved placing one child in his bed, then walking across the house to put the other child in her bed. Now, the children, who also happen to be best friends, find themselves in the same nightly cage. Party mode naturally follows. So what can you do to quell the bedtime bedlam?

Another dramatic pause - mostly because I have to gather my thoughts.

Basically, you're hosed. At least during the honeymoon period. Unless you're willing to use some pretty harsh discipline to keep the kids in their own beds, there will be miniature havoc wreaked in that bedroom - fact. Let me just share a typical experience during our "combined resting antics period" - CRAP for short. 

We put the children in their beds. Easy enough. We turned out the lights. Check. We left. Wrong answer! Instantly we would hear the flick of a light switch from the living room, which our son had recently discovered he was tall enough to reach. Uncontrollable giggling promptly followed. We returned to the room to find the pillows piled at the end of the bed, sheets torn apart, and our son climbing the bars on his younger sister's crib so he could perform the daredevil feat of a quadruple back flip with a half twist onto the pillows waiting to stop his fall on the bed. Our daughter, loving the show, squealed in delight from her crib.

We firmly ordered all to return to a sleeping position on beds. After they rush to obey Mommy and Daddy, we flick the switch and walk away again. Mere steps down the hall, the click of the light switch stops us in our tracks while introducing a new nervous tick.

We found we had to use some pretty firm discipline to get them to stay in their beds in the end. They're best friends. They are 14 months apart and love each other to pieces. We work hard to keep it that way. However, we just want them to ignore each other when the lights go out. After various failed or lackluster methods, we finally came down in physical discipline's camp. 

Yes, we spank. And it works beautifully. During the first three months of shared bedroom, we avoided the S-word like it was an actual swear, like so many touchy-feely self-help books would have you believe. Consequently, bedtime was not so much a single event but a string of less-effective disciplines that stretched bedtime into a nightly 3-hour occurrence. We often fell asleep on the living room couch at 11 p.m. to the sound of delighted screams from the back room. 

As soon as we began doling out immediate retribution for something they knew they weren't to be doing, the results came quickly. The best part? We only had to spank a couple times before they knew we meant business. Now we'll sometimes listen to one or the other singing or gabbing away for an hour or more from the confines of their bed, but they don't leave it unless they have to use the potty. 

Try to get those results with timeouts and loving talks.

I'm open to other methods, but that's what worked for our fun-loving children. We always made sure they knew we loved them after "reproving them with sharpness," but that's what we had to do. It's the only thing that worked. Do you have your own methods for turning party time into bedtime? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A few thoughts on schooling and education

Today I read a post on a blog somewhere about a parent who was upset that their child was disciplined with a verbal warning by a teacher for taking the name of the Lord in vain. This parent was about to take the matter to the principal or superintendent or some such nonsense. Now, I don't care whether you agree that that is swearing or not, that teacher should have a little authority over her classroom.
Stay with me here. We send our children to schools to be taught. Children and teenagers, as a general rule, don't want to learn. They would rather goof off in back texting to friends, talking, or otherwise not paying attention. With me so far?

OK, now we take a teacher who desperately wants to teach these kids, but can't get anything through because they are busy talking, texting, and probably even taking the name of the Lord in vain. Now, imagine this teacher tells the kids to quiet down, put cell phones, iPads, and MP3 players away and heaven forbid, pay attention to the lesson.

Then, when the children are forced to do these things, they go home and whine to their parents about what their teachers made them do. The furious parent calls the principal, wanting justice for their child, who had such a hard time because of a private, verbal reprimand. The poor tender feelings of their young one must be considered. The principal, knowing he answers to such taxpayers in one form or another, reprimands the teacher for what? Disciplining her class in a way she sees fit.

Suddenly this teacher has no ability to take care of matters that prohibit, in her eyes, education. In a school. When I was in school, no student whined if a teacher told him not to swear. It was understood that you walked into that teacher's "house" when you walked into their class, complete with house rules. Whether or not you consider taking the Lord's name in vain, that teacher's ability to keep an orderly class, and therefore educate your children has diminished. That teacher, hands tied, is forced into mediocrity and a lack of discipline.

19th century teachers could cane a kid's bottom publicly for failure to spell "flog" correctly. Now overly concerned parents have steered teachers toward mediocrity by saying discipline should remain in the home, where discipline is in scant supply, I imagine. If you don't like what a teacher does, home school. You have full control over your children in such a situation. But if you want to send your children off to surrogate instructors, you better be prepared to allow those teachers a little influence over your child, including, yes, disciplining them when they do something the teacher finds offensive or someone else in the class could find offensive.

Is this the way to to shape our kids education? Or should teachers be allowed to punish children for doing things that even their parents might say are OK in their book?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A child's personal prayers

Used to blessings on food, I got this gem out of my 3-year-old's personal bedtime prayer tonight: "Please bless us to have another yummy dinner to-morning." In case you're wondering, "to-morning" is a new conjugation of "tomorrow morning." And yeah, dinner makes a good breakfast.