With the early-morning squeal of the bus’s brakes, I knew that the end of summer was actually a reality. Sure, summer isn’t over on the calendar. There will be some heat, humidity, and fun yet to be had on weekends to come. But the days of the kids riding bikes past dark and sleeping in past noon have been halted for another year. We will continue to hear the hypnotic hum of weed-eaters, have our favorite baseball team to cheer on, and be met most days by singing birds and beating sunshine. There will still be some splashing in pools, backyard badminton, and — at least for now — the ground still feels very inviting to our bare feet. But a change is coming soon.

Summer certainly swims by faster than when I was young, but so does the rest of life, I suppose. Sadly, I don’t see it slowing down any in my lifetime. It feels as if the earth’s rotation is gaining momentum, and there are simply no brakes. The passing of summer is not all bad, however. It actually brings plenty I look forward to.

Like Friday nights, when my family will wrap ourselves in comfy sweatshirts and sit in our driveway, listening to the distant P.A. system announcing names and numbers at the local high school football game. We will watch leaves turn colors and breathe the strange, wonderful smell of decay when they fall to the ground. Autumn brings Halloween and Thanksgiving, flannel shirts and cozy blankets, bonfires and the roasting of marshmallows.

Before we know it, there is snow on the ground and flames in the fireplace. Wet boots and heavy coats pile up by the front door, with sleds and shovels waiting just beyond. The frigid air stops our kids’ running snot in its tracks, causes our old joints to ache, and keeps everyone from wanting to leave the warmth of our beds. But we keep forging ahead, until the holiday season and new year bring joy and hope to all. Slowly the snow begins to disappear as the mercury creeps upward a notch or two at a time.

Spring renews our faith in all that is good. We feel truly alive for the first time in months as the grass turns green, leaves fill the barren trees, and neighbors come out of hibernation. Bicycles are dusted off, balls are aired up, and cars are washed. We inhale the aroma of freshly mowed grass, budding flowers, and charcoal. Life is finally good…although it was never actually bad.

And in the blink of an eye, school is out again. But our children are a year older. So are we…

My kids are excited to get back to school. It’s a time of endless possibilities for them, and excitement of the unknown. I guess it’s bittersweet for me. I’m happy to see them ready to go back, but I will miss our summer life when laziness is not only respected, but encouraged. When happiness is the main goal. It seems like that should be the case more often. The occasionally melancholy, over-thinker in me realizes that summers with my kids are a fleeting time and one day will truly be only a fond memory. But, as with the changing of the seasons, I know there will be more to experience, love, and remember as they grow older and become adults, themselves.

In the meantime I hope and trust that we can all make an effort to pay attention to what’s happening around us, and appreciate what life offers us. There really is so much it offers. Let’s cherish the time we have with our families, and look forward to the changes. Sometimes life will be good, sometimes it will be bad, and we may never know the reason. But may we all have endless summers, regardless of the season.

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Girl Power!

May 1, 2016

  
I believe one of the most important responsibilities I have as the father of a daughter is to instill a sense of confidence and belonging in her. Sadly, we live in a world where women are still often treated as second-class citizens. Even in the good ol’ USA, women make less money than men, still can’t join certain clubs and organizations, and continue to be the butt of inappropriate (yet widely accepted) jokes. I hope things change by the time my six-year-old is an adult, but I want her to be prepared to stand up for herself and expect nothing less than equal treatment in the future.

My son is twelve. He’s a great kid, but he’s also at an age where he tends to occasionally be a jerk. As a matter of fact, he’s usually a jerk and is exceptionally good at it. As older brothers (and sisters) tend to do, he picks on his much younger sister quite often. I picked on my little sister at that age (and maybe still do a little now), so sometimes I don’t do as good of job of getting on him about it as I probably should. I do, however, try to consistently remind my daughter that she should stand up for herself at all times, regardless of the circumstances. That being said, she typically gets upset and simply tells on her brother when he is mistreating her in some way.

Today was different. My youngest hadn’t even had a chance to take a bite of the banana with peanut butter (a rare healthy snack that she actually loves) that I had just made for her, when the jerk grabbed it and took a bite. My daughter stood up from the table, narrowed her eyes on her big brother, and sternly said, “Listen, if you want some of this there are bananas and peanut butter right here in the kitchen. Make yourself one, but stay away from mine!” My son and I were both totally taken off-guard. “Um, okay, I’m really sorry,” he genuinely muttered. I was just speechless. Slowly, my daughter turned her fierce gaze towards me. “This is girl power, dad. Get used to it.” Luckily I was able to keep from laughing — as it was very funny — but I couldn’t hide my pride. This kid’s gonna be just fine. 

There’s a quote By William James that I like to keep in mind when it comes to parenting:

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

I truly hope my fellow fathers of daughters are doing all they can to empower their young girls. Our generation has an opportunity to make great strides towards equality for our children. Let’s work together to make it happen.

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

The best thing about being a substitute teacher is working with kids. Admittedly, there are times when this is also the worst part of my job, but it’s rare.

Many days I find I’m inspired by seeing students — often from different races and nationalities — being genuinely kind to one another. This supports my belief that people are inherently good. Other days I feel excited and happy when a child finally “gets it,” and I see their eyes light up and a gap-toothed smile stretch across their face. It’s proof that kids learn differently, but they all actually want to learn. Each and every day I am lucky enough to hear or see something that makes me laugh out loud — a reminder that we take life a little too seriously.

Yesterday was no different. I was subbing for a teacher who takes students out of their normal classrooms to be part of smaller group instruction. So I would go to various classrooms, retrieve the students, then walk them to the room where the smaller groups meet. I’ve subbed for this teacher several times, so the students know who I am, but I still try to help put them at ease by making a little small talk as we walk. 

It was mid-morning when I went to a first grade class and pulled out a girl I had previously worked with a few times. Walking down the hall, we were having a typical casual conversation when things turned serious.

“So how’s your day going so far?” I inquired.

“Well, not very good,” the girl replied very solemnly. 

“Oh no, what’s the matter?”

“Well, I think I got dog poop on my shoe,” she said as she lifted her foot and hopped along for a second.

Sure enough… I couldn’t help laughing, and then she started laughing, too.

Regardless of our age, we all have days when we step in poop. Life’s just like that. Rather than getting upset, I hope I will think of this story and take it in stride (yes, pun intended) the next time it happens to me. We all could be better at this.

  
It’s a very cold and rainy spring break morning in my neck of the woods. Regardless, I’m still feeling very fortunate to be able to be home with my kids (well, mostly), and the weather provides a perfect day to make some popcorn, cuddle up under blankets, and watch movies. We have cable and Netflix, and movies are just a couple clicks of the remote control away, yet I would love to be able to take my son and daughter to the local video store to pick out some old classics. Something they have never had the pleasure of doing.

While technology certainly has its upside, our kids are missing out on some things that my generation took for granted. Long gone is the excitement of perusing the new releases at the pre-Blockbuster corner video store (don’t forget to check the recently returned cart — and try to sneak a peek into the Adult section), the joy of getting dropped off by our parents at the mall (my mom can take if yours can pick up?) and slowly flipping through records at Musicland (either before or after slurping an Orange Julius), or even just playing board (bored) games like Life, Monopoly, and Clue.

Perhaps I’m suffering from a worsening case of silly nostalgia as I get older, but it seems like it was just a simpler, better time when we were kids — despite being more difficult to do some things. I’m aware of course that every older generation thinks such things about the current “troubled” youth of society, but maybe the old geezers are on to something. I mean think about it…we rode our bikes everywhere (my kids literally dislike bicycles), we played outside from sun up to sun down in the summer (my kids would rather lie in bed doing “stuff” on their electronic devices), we got severe, tissue damaging sunburns (my kids wear sunscreen if they happen to enter sunlight), we played actual sports (my kids excel at virtual bowling). This is messed up, man.

Who am I kidding, my kids would probably freak out if they had to go to an actual video store. Part of how they act is on me for not being a better parent, and I suppose part of it is just the way things are today. That being said, my children do great in school, are generally very kind to others, are not complete spoiled brats (despite how I describe them), and my wife and I love the hell out of them (and that love is definitely reciprocated). They also recycle sometimes. The world may be going to hell in a hand-basket, but things could be much worse. As the old saying goes, the kids are alright (they just aren’t as good as when we were young).

Here’s to a happy spring break for all and some true quality time with your damn children (oh, and better weather than we have). Cheers. 

 

 

 

  
Not so long ago, a little girl named Rose was growing up in an old, run-down, dirty neighborhood. It seemed like it was always cloudy. Her neighbors were grumpy and rarely came outside.

As Rose walked to and from school each day, she passed a vacant lot near her home. Her parents had told her about the lot many times. There used to be a beautiful house here, with big trees and a colorful flower garden. But now it was just a patch of hard, cracked dirt with only some weeds growing.

Walking home one day, however, Rose noticed something different in the lot. Something other than weeds was coming from the ground. As Rose got closer, she realized it was a small bush with one tiny flower. It was a rose.

“Look, a rose, just like me!” she said aloud.

The rose was wilted and in terrible need of help. Rose ran home and returned with a large cup of water, which she slowly poured around the bush. The water flowed through the cracks in the dirt.

The next morning Rose woke up early and hurried to the lot. She couldn’t believe what she saw. The little rose had grown — and there was a second flower, a daisy, growing next to the rosebush!

Every day when she got home from school, Rose filled a watering can and headed to the lot to water her flowers. Every morning there were more flowers to see. Red ones, purple ones, yellow, green, pink, orange — so many beautiful colors that were nowhere to be found in the neighborhood. There were roses, daisies, daffodils, tulips, and some strange types of flowers that Rose had never even seen before.

After just two weeks, there were far too many flowers for a watering can. Rose’s dad gave her a long garden hose that she would lug to the lot each day. And with more water came even more flowers!

People started to stop and stare at the new flower garden. Rose’s mom found an old bench in her basement, and painted it bright yellow. She put the bench on the sidewalk in front of the garden so people could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Oddly, things began to change in the neighborhood. People started painting their houses, fixing broken windows, cleaning up trash, and planting flowers of their own. Before long the old gray neighborhood had color everywhere. People who used to keep to themselves inside were now outside working on their lawns, playing with their kids, walking their dogs, and saying “hello” to people they passed on the street. The neighbors were getting to know each other and were becoming friends. Someone — no one was exactly sure who — even put another bench, this one painted red, in front of the flower garden. So many people were coming to admire the garden, that one bench just wasn’t enough.

Rose continued her watering every day. More and more flowers grew, until you couldn’t see the ground at all, just flowers everywhere! Kids and grownups alike came from all over the town to see the garden. They also noticed how nice the rest of the neighborhood looked. Soon, other neighborhoods were doing the same thing, until the whole town become something to see. It wasn’t long before people started coming from far and wide to see the flower garden. They then went home and started their own gardens.

Folks from all over the map started adding color and beauty to their own towns. They were working very hard, yet they were happier than ever before. People had something to be proud of.

All because of one little Rose.

  
In case you haven’t been following my blog (and based on my pathetically low number of followers, you probably haven’t), I quit my job about eight months ago to become a stay-at-home dad. This was a very tough decision, but it has been one of the best choices I could have made for both me and my family. While I’ve had a ton of support and encouragement from family and friends, I frequently encounter people who — for various reasons — seem to think that I’m not living up to my responsibilities as a red-blooded American man.

This most recently occurred during a field trip I attended at the zoo with my eleven year old son. Parents were not allowed to ride on the school buses, which were characteristically running late. As a result, a large group of parents were milling around the zoo entrance impatiently waiting for their children to arrive. I passed some time making small talk with a few moms, who made up the majority of the crowd, then saw an older man walking my way. He wore an expression that clearly said he was very relieved to see another dad. 

This gentleman, let’s pretend I don’t recall his name, introduced himself with a firm handshake. He quickly informed me that he was a retired truck driver. “I could drive any kind of truck, anywhere you needed me to go,” he boasted. “I spent a lot of time away from my family, and now I get to do this type of stuff,” he continued. I couldn’t tell if he was happy or annoyed to be there — maybe he was somewhat indifferent — but he made it sound like “this type of stuff” was his sentence for all the family time he missed before retirement.

“What about you?” he inquired. “Did you have to take off work to be here?”

“No I’m a stay-at-home dad,” I said. I could tell where this was headed.

The older man let out an uncomfortable snort of laughter, “Well, hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of (as if I must obviously be very ashamed and embarrassed about my unfortunate situation). Whatcha makin’ for dinner (more laughing).”

My first impulse was to give this mother-trucker a flying roundhouse kick to the trachea. However, I quickly reminded myself that I no longer worry or care about what others think of me. I decided to take the high road.

“I know, I’m not ashamed, and am actually very proud of it,” I calmly replied. “And roasted chicken.”

I followed this with my quick spiel about how I left the construction industry after nearly twenty years so that I could spend much more time with my son and daughter. His eyes lit up. I had a glimmer of hope that I was getting through to him.

“Oh yeah? What kind of construction were you in?”

Ugh. Some people just don’t get it — and many never will. I’ve learned to accept the fact. If I was a woman, he probably would have been very happy for me. Keep in mind though that if anyone thinks a man shouldn’t be a stay-at-home parent, but a woman should, it’s not only an insult to the man, but is a bigger slap in the face to women.

There is a growing number of dads who are making the choice to stay home with their kids. I don’t understand why our society doesn’t embrace this. It means that men are putting their families first. It also means that women are perfectly capable of being the primary bread-winner. Most importantly, it means kids are spending more time with their dads.

Being a stay-at-home dad isn’t for everyone, and I’m certainly not saying there is anything wrong with being a working parent. I was one for years, and I know many people who do a fantastic job of it (starting with my wife). Fortunately, I had an opportunity and I jumped on it. I can rebuild my career and make more money when my kids are older, but I will never have another chance to relive this time in my kids’ lives. We make some sacrifices, but we are happier than ever.

If you are a stay-at-home dad, good for you. Be proud of yourself. Your kids probably don’t realize it today, but you are making a significant difference in their lives now, and are also affecting how they will function as adults. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel ashamed or embarrassed — or like any less of a man than they are.

On the other hand, if you think what I’m doing is crazy, that’s okay too. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are trying to make a positive impact on our families, and are not worried about impressing you. I simply ask that we are shown the same respect that you would want anyone to show you. Please remember that the world needs all kinds of people, including truck drivers and stay-at-home dads.

Oh No…Puberty! 

September 25, 2015

“Hey, Dad,” my son, Jack, hollered. He was slightly out of breath after rushing out of the house to meet me as I pulled into our driveway last night. “I’ve got some great news — I’m becoming a man…”

Jack has always been mature for his age. His first complete sentence was, “Quite frankly, this pureed chicken in a jar is barely edible.” (Or something like that.) For the most part, he’s been smarter, taller, faster, stronger, and more emotionally advanced (not necessarily in a good way) than many of his peers. He has also always been self-conscious, anxious, and worrisome.

This fall Jack started middle school. Over the summer between 5th and 6th grade, some major changes took place among the tweenage boy population. Suddenly Jack is one of the smaller kids. Some of the boys sport a thin hipster-esque mustache. A few of his friends sound like they might be Barry White’s illegitimate children. For the first time in his life, it seems my son is feeling a little inadequate. 

Man or woman, I think we can all agree that middle school was at least awkward at times, if not generally horrific. It’s a time of change and uncertainty. Besides the growth spurts, facial hair, and changing voices, there are also zits, gym locker rooms, and body odor. Not to mention a newfound attraction to the opposite sex. These are key ingredients in a recipe for crippling anxiety.

By far the biggest problem for the guys, however, are the sudden, Viagra-like erections. Ok, it’s not that “big” of a problem, but trust me when I say that panic attacks occur when you are sitting with a boner, and you realize that class is about to end. The more you worry about it, the “harder” (sorry) life becomes. As a result, every dude is forced to learn the fine art of casually walking down the hall while clutching a Trapper Keeper against his junk, should the bell ring at the wrong time. Under really bad conditions, there is the ol’ “re-tie the shoe(s) trick,” which more physically developed kids may need to opt for. The bell ringing isn’t the end of the world, though. In fact, it can be a blessing. Far worse is the fear that you will be called up to the blackboard during class for some reason — without a shield. This is the definition of pure terror.

For the most part, these things haven’t been an issue for my kid. He is very impatient to catch up to his friends, or so he thinks. He’s in for a rude awakening.

“Come on, I gotta show you this,” Jack continued last night.

Intrigued, I followed him in the front door. As soon as we entered the living room, Jack dropped trow. “Check it out!”

Confused, both about what was happening and what he could possibly be happy about, my immediate reaction was to console him. Don’t worry, buddy, it’ll eventually get bigger, I considered. I bit my tongue. “What exactly am I looking for?”

“Look, right there!” I strained my eyes. Then, I saw it, just as he declared, “It’s a pube!”

And so it begins. My baby boy will never be the same. Soon he will have a peard (pubic beard, of course) down there, and other things, which I don’t even want to think about, will start happening.

This morning I walked past the bathroom, where Jack was naked; closely examining his nether regions.

“Start shutting the door,” I pleaded. “In fact, start locking it.”

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish Jack luck.