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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?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

.83 cents just doesn't pay the bills

The sum total from my awesome blogging empire to date.
But it's all "Pennies from Heaven."
You wouldn't believe how much .83 cents can feel like. That is my current total for running ads on this blog. I saw another blogger refer to them as "pennies from heaven."

The crazy thing is, that blogger was right. This blog is something I want to write, so any income, no matter how pithy when waging war against a stack of pediatric bills, just seems like a Wall Street bonus to me.

I feel blessed that I can bring in any amount of support for my precious little family. Hopefully I can expand the influence of this blog beyond my circle of friends at some point and maybe even start to write books that entertain people (see this post for a crowd favorite) while giving them nuggets of wisdom in stories like this that force people to say "How sweet!"

The nice thing that is also the curse is that so many people are paying me to write for them. I have outlets clamoring for my time and talents that want to pay me to do it. So unfortunately, my own projects, which I consider more important, sometimes get sidelined while I get paid to work. Dang them for giving me money. If only people would stop giving me work so I could really work on what I want to work on. And in case the word "work" wasn't in that sentence enough, here it is again: work.

And here's a bit of parenting advice just because that's what I do here: give every ounce of attention to a sick child you possibly can. Those kids are in need of love so badly when they are puking their guts out. They are probably confused, scared and, if the amount of regurgitation is any indication, super hungry. My kids have been extremely sick over the past couple weeks, and I have found I have drawn closer to both of them as I've cared for them and rubbed their backs while they do their thing. Both my son and daughter have been more loving since they got sick, but I think it's reciprocal more than anything.

All I know is I'm glad they were sickest on the weekend, because otherwise I couldn't have used the argument against my wife that .83 cents was not enough to take them to the emergency room.

If you like what I do here, please share it with friends and family. Writing is what I excel at, but if no one reads it, it's hard to get myself to write it. I need to know people are enjoying what I do. Even if it does net me mere "pennies from heaven."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Family movie DVD review of Disney's Tangled

I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. This is the best all-around movie to come out since "The Princess Bride." And if for some bizarre reason you don't like that classic movie, I probably don't like you. You should look elsewhere for your review of this movie. And defriend me on Facebook while you're at it. 
That's how much I like this movie. "Tangled" has the distinction of being the only movie I've ever purchased without seeing it first. I'm a cheapskate, so naturally I want to be sure I'll enjoy a movie before I buy it, since I know I can throw away a dollar at Redbox and see a movie I don't like once without agonizing over the prospect of watching it again. But for some reason, I was pretty sure I was going to love "Tangled," between what I heard friends saying about it and what I saw in the previews.

Even so, it was nerve-wracking to put my investment into the DVD player for the first time. Would I like it enough to justify my order? I knew I had chose well within minutes of the opening. The scene goes like this - minor spoiler alert:

Thief on top of the castle, about to break in to steal from royalty: "That is some view, guys. You know, I could really get used to this."

Burly twin with lamb chops: Come on Rider, we gotta move.

Rider, holding up a finger with a lopsided smile pasted to his face: Hold on... Yeah, I'm used to it. I really need to get a castle. Can't you guys see me in a castle?

That's not verbatim by any means but you get the idea. The character has enough charisma to put President Obama to shame, which is saying something since he was elected on charisma juice and not a whole lot more. His character made me a fan of Zachry Levi, even though I've never seen any other performance by him (I have hear TV's Chuck is entertaining.)

But I knew from the previews that I was going to like his character. The real surprise is how well I liked just about every other character in the movie - even the bad guy - erm, lady, whatever. Each person or animal conveys a unique personality.

Rapunzel's mother, played by Donna Murphy, is a bright spot in the movie, amazing considering she's also the dark influence. She pulls off an amazing and convincing performance as the hateful character you just have to like anyway. She plays mind games with Rapunzel to keep her in the tower by, um, let's see - crushing her self esteem through sugar-coated insults. Some of the lines she directs at Rapunzel are absolutely brilliant. She is probably one of my favorite villains of all time.

Rapunzel, played by singer and actress Mandy Moore, has plenty of personality to convey herself. She boasts myriad creative uses for her lengthy locks. You might want to make a game of guessing all the ways she'll use her hair as you watch the movie. I was pleasantly surprised. As a conflicted character, Moore pulls her role off without a hitch. In general, the superb voice acting supports the top-notch writing throughout the movie.

One warning: Tangled is a light musical. This actually scared me at first since I can't stand it most of the time when characters randomly break out in song and dance. But don't worry too much. They did it well. The music is written by Alan Menken, who also did the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the last three musicals that had anything good going for them. It is actually good music, though it does tend to get stuck in your head. And the songs are never overlong, so it lets the plot move along briskly, only complementing it and, I'd say, even enhancing it.

Back to the top. I compare this to "The Princess Bride" for more than overall quality alone. It has many of the same things going for it: action (often laugh inducing in itself), romance (just enough that guys afraid of chick flicks don't mind too much, humor (lots) and (cough) a princess with an unlikely love interest.

I just hope Disney can follow this successful recipe more often, since the studio had pretty much handed over the reins to the superior Pixar since Toy Story came out. Pixar had better watch their backs if Disnet can keep doing this kind of movie.

If you skipped past all the above stuff to get to this, two things: 1. Shame on you. 2. Buy this movie. The lovable characters and memorable moments will keep you entertained throughout.

Family friendliness: 5/5
The movie is clean. Even when one character stabs another (no I won't tell you who - stop asking) the knife comes out clean. We watch this unabashedly with our 2- and 3-year-old children.

Rewatchability: 4.5/5
Other than the way Mandy Moore puts the emphasis on the "You" in "Eugene" and delivers a horribly written speech near the end, there is nothing to detract from the experience of rewatching this. In fact, the characters become even more likable when you know them better after a couple viewings. I find I laugh harder at the movie than people seeing it for the first time. I've seen this movie probably seven times since we bought it and it has held my attention each time for the most part. This category is important when you have children and a small movie library with no cable in house.

Voice Acting: 4.8/5
I take off .2 just for the problems I mentioned above with Mandy Moore.

Music: 4.5/5
The half point deduction is for how the songs get stuck in my head interminably. In fact, I am currently typing to the beat of "Mother Knows Best" playing in my head.

Overall: 5/5
I couldn't ask for too many improvements here. Small qualms aside, this is seriously one of the best things to come out of Hollywood. Ever. Especially for families.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Daddies shouldn't shop: A moral tale

Shopping from a list is best done by someone that can take
orders without question. I am not one of those people.
Daddies shouldn't shop. Let me rephrase that: Daddies shouldn't use Mommy's shopping list to go shopping.

During my singlehood, I almost enjoyed going to the grocery store. I walked in like I owned the place, looked for cheap, junky food, and bought it. Rarely did I spend more than $18 in a single trip to the grocery store. And those 18 greenbacks would generally carry me through most of a week with Party Pizzas, canned soup and a 5-pound sack of cheese with a side of tortillas. The food was tasty, cheap and easy to cook. I mean heck, a quesadilla takes all of 60 seconds to make in a microwave, give or take 7 seconds depending on model.

Back then, it was a manly display of power to walk up to a checkout stand with nothing green in my basket, only to watch the chubby cashier stare in horror at the nutrition facts on my selections as they convey past her check stand. I caught many surreptitious looks at my waistline. I'm sure they thought my belly, sucked in to the point of pain, would slump out over my belt at any moment like gooey bread dough. But alas, nothing like this ever happened, so I just got hateful stares from these poor women whose metabolism didn't support the same kind of lifestyle.

Manhood, in the end, is really about the power to make choices or veto them. So choosing to fill my shopping cart with enough fat to make Santa Clause cringe felt good. Felt right. Felt...*grunt*...manly.

Nowadays, I go to the store with a list my wife has e-mailed me at some point during the day - usually right before I leave work so I don't have any time to argue about what's on the list before I go and buy it - no questions asked. The list is filled with little notes, which are little more than veiled threats.

I look down the list, which 90 percent of is found in the produce portion of the store, a place I could never "afford" as a college student.

"Bananas (2 bunches)
"Apples (lots)
"Grapefruit (if they're not a bad price)

"Watermelon?" I ask myself out loud incredulously, knowing how expensive they've been lately.

"(yes, a watermelon," the list answers me, exasperated. "We're going to be sharing it with the family we're taking dinner to...and I'm pregnant! Won't be able to use that much longer)"

This is how my wife squelches my arguments before I call. She knows me well enough to know the things I'll argue about spending money on, so she insists and plays the prego card. Immasculated, I thump watermelons, trying to judge how many .49 cent pounds they weigh since the scales will just spin around so fast the needle bursts the glass and embeds itself in some nearby broccoli.

Worse yet, I had talked to her on the phone just before going to the store, and she told me not to buy a bunch of stuff that isn't on the list. She wants me home ASAP. Even so, I try to make myself feel manlier by calling her to question specific requests that would more than double the price.

"CANOLA oil mayo," the list tells me with emphasis.

I pick up my cell phone for the sixth time in the store: "Does it have to be 'CANOLA oil mayo' or can it be 'Olive oil mayo'?" I ask, pointing out the Canola oil mayo costs roughly what I would expect a jar of gold dust the same size to go for, despite the sticker that proclaims "Low Price!" in huge bold letters. This is what our store puts on their food right after significantly upping the prices on something, trying to fool you into thinking it's a sale item when in fact they are wrapping a string around your front tooth to gank it out. I'm not stupid.

"Well, the canola mayo should taste less olive-y, but what's the price difference?" she asks. I tell her. I hear her body slump to the floor as she faints. My 3-year-old son picks up the phone she dropped and I walk him through the resuscitation process, which involves wet fingers and ear canals. When she comes to, she decides the olive oil mayo is OK by her.

All right, score one for manhood and common sense!

I make probably seven of these questioning calls during my time at the store. Especially frustrating is this line: "Sub buns-the small yummy crispy kind :)" Despite the sideways smiley face, I'm a little confused by what she means. I scour the bakery aisle and find nothing that comes remotely close. Knowing the smiley will turn to a frowny if I don't get exactly what it's hoping for, I finally make an exasperated call after prodding various small sub-looking buns to check consistency: "Do you want to explain a little better what you mean by 'sub buns-the small yummy crispy kind'?"

She explains they were the ones we had with dinner when we had invited my parents for dinner a year or so ago. My Polaroid memory tries it's best to spit out a memory which I can then shake until a vague recollection shows up in ghost form in the background before materializing completely. But unfortunately, the image remains ghostly gray.

"We had my parents over for dinner?" I ask dumbly.

And this banter happens for the hour or so I wander the aisles feeling less and less masculine the whole way. By the time I've reached milk, I decide it's time to show my executive power as father and patriarch. I pick up the milk (2 gal 1%), and march triumphantly to the ice cream section, where I authoritatively throw two buckets of ice cream loaded with high-fat goodies into the cart, where they find a soft bed of greens to lay on. Then I run to the candy aisle and snag an 8-pack of fun-size Snickers (not as fun as full-size Snickers.)

As I check out, the cashier asks me how I am. I slowly nod and say, "I just went shopping."

"Enough said," she says.

"You'd be surprised how immasculating it can be to fill out a woman's shopping list," I tell her.

"Did you have to buy her tampons?"

"Fortunately, no," I reply, thinking back to other times when hordes of women swarmed around me in the sea of pink that is the tampon aisle while I desperately try to find the only plastic-wrapped case that is regular size, has wings and is not brand A, B,C or D. "She's pregnant otherwise I'm sure it would have been on the list."

We all have a good laugh about my list and I head for home eating fun-size Snickers. Once home, I forcefully show that I'm still not the one in charge by unpacking the groceries when my beautiful wife asks me to.

(Author's self-preservation note: I love my wife dearly. Don't take this column the wrong way.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bloodsuckers, Arches, and Paranoia, oh my!

My kids and I at the pre-Delicate-Arch arch. This is the climb that induced a
panic attack which still hasn't gone away completely more than a week later.
The woman walked past our little family with a smile on her flushed face. She looked at my 8-months pregnant wife holding our 3-year-old son's hand with our supplies on her back. She looked at me carrying a huge camera bag on front and a kid backpack on back with a 2-year-old girl that just wanted to be on my shoulders anyway. She internalized we had come roughly two miles on a steep trail under such circumstances.

“I guess I need to stop complaining now,” she said to us. We politely laughed. She was probably the third person that had said that exact thing to us that day.

We were in Arches National Park for our reprieve from car shopping (more on that in later posts). We had just finished hiking to Delicate Arch – you know, the iconic one. It was beautiful, we loved it except for one thing: paranoia. And that in abundance.

Going to Delicate Arch involves hiking along a trail literally carved into the red rock on the side of a cliff. This got our son, who tends to believe his mother when she warns him how scary the world is, a bit skittish. This was made worse by the fact that he got a little bit stranded on the the arch you can climb up into before you reach the main one. Being the good daddy I am, I wanted pictures with my family inside the arch looking out at Delicate Arch. So I dutifully carried my daughter to the arch against her will and encouraged my son to make the sketchy scramble.

With exuberance he started toward Daddy. However, when he made it more than halfway up, he realized he didn't know how to go up or down and he went into freak out mode, whimpering in a hystercially scared voice, complete with hyperventilation. I ran to the rescue and pulled him up into the arch, where it happened to be very windy...right next to a cliff. Bad combination. I coaxed a smile out of the boy anyway for the picture that a Japanese guy offered to take for us.

So after returning to the relative safety of the cliff-side path, our son was a little anxious about putting one foot in front of the other. We really had to goad him upward. And then, after 1.5 miles of upward stop-and-go with easily distracted children, we came out at the main viewpoint for Delicate Arch. The splendor. The beauty. The delicateness (delicatessen?) The child in total freak out mode thinking the wind will sweep him into the awaiting chasm.

Yeah, that last bit didn't conjure a long stay at the arch viewpoint. Meanwhile, our daughter just sought refuge from the stiff wind behind a ledge we pointed out. She was totally nonplussed. As we reluctantly hauled our whimpering child back down the path, I tried to figure out why he flipped out so much. Yes, he's small. Yes, the wind was fast. Yes, he was safe anyway. Yes, we told him that. No, did he listen.

So to allow other hikers to enjoy their moment in the crowded park, we skedaddled. Down the mountain went a lot faster than up.
Notice the shadow of the person standing in the Arch.
This is the double arch in Arches National Park. Way
fun to photograph at sunset.

I have never quite figured out why he urgently needed to leave that situation. I've never seen him so horrified. Not even during the part in Sleeping Beauty where the witch turns into a dragon.

I think I found one of the root causes a few days later after returning home though. Now that some of the snow has melted off our yard (see this post), mosquitoes have come out in force. Two summers ago, when we introduced our son to mosquitoes, this was his reaction. Now, two years later, having been spoon fed reasons to be scared of the world, this is what happened.

Us: <Driving into the driveway>

Mommy: Oh no, there's bloodsuckers on the windshield. Kids, see these bugs? They'll eat you. You better run as fast as you can to get to the house.

Son: Can we just stay in here?

Daddy: Mommy! Kids, there's nothing to be afraid of, we'll just go in the house.

Kids: <Believing Mommy>

Daddy: <Goes and unbuckles the daughter, who walks calmly to the door through a small cloud of mosquitoes.>

Mommy from car: Hurry! Run inside so the mean bloodsuckers don't get you!

Daddy: <Eyes roll so far back they do a loop-de-loop inside my face and I oddly find myself looking straightforward again. I unbuckle the boy.>

Son: <Frantically fights the hand I have around his wrist, sprints up the stairs to front door, yanks the handle down and throws his shoulder into the still-locked door multiple times, jiggling the handle as hard and fast as he can manage. He nearly starts crying in his hysteric dance. He probably bruises his poor shoulder, possibly squishing some of the bloodsuckers in the process.>

Daddy: You seeing this Mommy? Great job with the scare tactics. Son? It's OK, the bugs can't really hurt you. Calm. Down. Please.

I've never seen anything quite like it. It was like a scene in a movie where a guy in a bike is getting chased by a turbo-charged tank. This kid thought his life was truly at risk between the car and the house. I'm almost surprised he didn't perform a James Bond diving roll somewhere on the way.

So that brings me to the point. Don't use scare tactics on your children. It backfires. It's easy to do. I catch myself doing it all the time. (“Daddy, can I have another snack before we go to Grandma's?” “No, your stomach will swell to the size of a beach ball and we'll have to roll you to the car, where we'll have to pop you to make sure you fit in your car seat.” Oops. Guilty.)

The problem is, for better or worse, your kids trust you. So if you tell them two conflicting things, they will probably believe the worst-case scenario of the two. Which is why when our son was bashing his shoulder to break down the front door, he still believed Mommy's “bloodsucker” statements, not Daddy's cool-down, easy-voice reassurances.

This is one I have to be careful with because I tend to be a lot like Calvin's dad from Calvin and Hobbes. Yeah, I make stuff up if I don't know the answers.

Which is exactly what I do with this column.

No wait, just forget I said that. I don't want to use scare tactics on you to keep you from reading this.