Category Archives: Family

Kids can be so rock and roll sometimes

Today I received a text from my wife that read “I need to talk to you. I don’t know how to handle something that just happened.”

“Oh dear,” I thought. “This can’t be good.”

I went to a quiet place to call and was told the news. One of my daughters (those who know my family can probably guess which one) received some Valentine’s Day candy from her grandparents, and had eaten all of her stash. Still craving chocolate, she went into the kitchen and got a handful of chocolate chips to enjoy. She was stopped by her mother, who told her that no, she couldn’t have those chips because she had eaten all her candy.

Without missing a beat, dear daughter licked her other hand and placed the chocolate chips into her saliva-coated palm, all while staring at my wife with a look of “Oh yeah, what are you going to do about it?”

She didn’t get to finish those chocolate chips, and she received some other punishment as well for her defiance. But I have to admit when I heard this story, I laughed hysterically and uncontrollably. My gut reaction? I was impressed with her audacity.

Man, that was pretty rock and roll.

Not that I encourage such types of behavior, of course.

Ending the compromise

Cut up your credit cards. If you use a credit card, you don’t want to be rich. — Marc Cuban, How to Get Rich

What seems like forever ago, my wife and I were on a crusade to eliminate our debt.

A friend had turned me on to Dave Ramsey’s plan, and we went after it with a vengeance. We killed our credit card and automobile debt and had money in the bank.

When our first child was born shortly after, everything stalled. We didn’t incur new credit card debt, but we weren’t making the kind of progress we were on other debts pre-kid. And then kid No. 2 came along. We needed a van, which we bought on credit.

The compromises began. We got credit cards again. And then in 2010, we purchased a house. Along with that came its own expenses, and because we weren’t following Ramsey’s plan, the expenses mounted up. The credit card bills started rising. We were fools.

A year ago, my wife and I took our 10-year anniversary vacation, and while we were traveling across the great state of Arkansas, we got to discussing all of those things above. We decided to change. We couldn’t let things go any further, so on Aug. 1, we refocused our efforts on getting out of debt. I took on more side jobs, and by the end of the year, we had paid off the last of the credit cards.

Except we didn’t; when you have a credit card you tend to use it. We didn’t typically carry a balance, but it happened a couple of times. Finally we realized: any credit card was too many.

Since my wife closed her business in May, we’ve found that by embracing the constraint of a temporary smaller income, we can live within our means just fine. It’s a challenge, but certainly doable. And so, we’ve decided to cut the last safety net and embrace constraints even more.

Today over lunch, I shut down the last two credit cards. We are done; no more of this. We will use cash and our debit card, and focus our remaining efforts on paying off the student loans for good. Perhaps the best part was that instead of using my children as a crutch for why we couldn’t get out of debt, they’ve now become a driver for why we will. And so, I had them help me get rid of the last one.

So now, forward. We have no auto loans and no credit card debt. The only thing we owe is our student loans. For the first time since we graduated college, we paid extra on the student loans this month. And when those things are gone, it’s “Hello, Disney World!”

It’s a good feeling to be where we are today. Today is a good day.

The end of a chapter

After almost four years in business, my wife, Amy Gruber, is shutting down her business, Tiny Tykes Playcare. Today is its last day.

This post is in praise of Amy.

Amy Gruber

Amy Gruber

When we got had our first daughter in 2006, Amy was working for a school district 30 miles from home. It didn’t take long for her to determine she didn’t want someone else to raise her child while she went off to work. She finished out the school year, and then found other employment that allowed her to be mom in the day, and worker bee in the evening.

And so, when we had our second daughter in 2009, she got to thinking about how she could stay at home with her children, yet continue to make a living. She decided upon the idea of using her teaching background and created a preschool in our home. Her desire was to create an intimate, manageable setting for teaching young minds, while still being able to be mom.

She did it. With very little advertising, no media coverage (I tried, but I guess they weren’t interested), and mostly guerrilla marketing, she transformed our home into a school. She was able to achieve everything she set her mind to, and was blessed to have a steady stream of customers while educating young minds in the process.

Running a business is quite difficult. I’ve watched how much it’s consumed her time and her mental energy. From the (quite idiotic) regulations she had to keep up with, shopping for food for her kiddos each week, keeping up with a curriculum, training, and constant cleaning, she pulled it off fantastically — all while being mother and wife. I don’t know if many people knew just how good the hands were that their children were in. I realized I am biased, but I assure you: those kids were in excellent hands.

Perhaps most importantly, when our children look back at their lives, they will remember a mom who was there for them. This was the primary goal, and she achieved it.

But now we’ve turned a page in this chapter. We are expecting our third and final child in late August. She won’t be able to continue doing Tiny Tykes Playcare with a newborn to take care of. We’ve taken steps over the past few years to whittle down debt, raise some income, and build some savings. Our ability to learn to live within our means will allow her to just focus on being a new mother.

We certainly feel blessed.

And so, she’s reached the end of this chapter, and is starting a new one. Congrats to you, Amy. You have done excellent.

The bookshelf

One of the benefits of living in an age where manufactured goods proliferate is that the cost of things goes down while their availability goes up. Unfortunately, that can also be a curse.

It’s not a big secret, but a lot of the “easy-to-assemble” furniture you can buy in a store isn’t of great quality. I’d love to purchase more high-end furniture, but it’s often out of a price range I’m willing to pay. But for those times when I did spend the extra cash, I’ve been pleased with the purchase.

shelf-crap

The old bookshelf is falling apart. Note the sides of each shelf where the sides are pulling away. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

My girls have tons of books. After fixing their particle-board bookshelf to keep it from falling apart late last year, I decided that would be the last time. I would build them a bookshelf. I put it on my list of goals for 2014. In the evening of Jan. 17, the start of a three-day weekend for me, I started the work.

My goal was to work hard and fast and get it completed no later than the following Monday on Jan. 20. You see, I’m a great starter but not a great finisher, and I wanted to prove to myself I could beat my own bad processes.

As I got going, I found myself giving in to my temptations. This was for my girls, so it had to be perfect. I kept finding imperfections in the wood that I would keep sanding away at. That process was exacerbated by my refusal to buy an electric hand sander. After buying all the wood, brass screws, and paper and a few other things, I didn’t want to shell out another $30 plus for a sander.

The refusal to buy a sander proved to be the most idiotic decision of this build. At first it seemed almost romantic. The sandpaper in my hand, I caressed the wood. It seemed to talk to me, telling me how it wanted to be shaped. I examined every detail, and when I found an imperfection I’d spend minutes on that one area making it absolutely perfect.

Eventually I needed a break. Covered in sawdust, my hand cramping, losing time, I told my wife why it was taking so long.

She asked, “You think $30 is too much for an electric hand sander?”

“I don’t now,” I said.

I didn’t finish by Jan. 20. My minimum viable product hadn’t been achieved, and I ended my three-day weekend with the project undone.

Then the cold hit. The snow came. Weeks upon weeks of frigid temperatures  made it undesirable to work in my garage. The bookshelf sat there until we had a break in the weather. I propped open the garage door and worked more on it one weekend. Things were looking good.

And then more cold came, with more snow. More delays. My dad gave me a saw I needed to finish the back. Finally last weekend the weather was great enough for the final stage: a few coats of clear lacquer.

My desire was to put on one more coat before I attached the back and called it done. But this week, the shelf my girls’ room began to deteriorate very quickly. It was the end of the road. I needed to finish the shelf. I needed to ship.

After breakfast today, I made coffee and headed to the garage. I nailed in the backing, and carried it inside.

The finished bookshelf. It's rock solid.

The finished bookshelf. It’s rock solid.

The bookshelf has some imperfections. This is not the build of a master craftsman. There are some pencil marks I didn’t get fully sanded out. The backing has some uneven cuts in places. The lacquer isn’t perfectly smooth. And I would have really liked to put on one more coat.

But all of that really doesn’t matter. Done is better than perfect.

It is done.

What’s in a name?

The other day my oldest daughter asked me, “Daddy, what does Gruber mean?”

Oddly enough, I wasn’t sure, so I told I sent her a link to lmgtfy.com.

Just kidding.

So I looked it up. I found this definition at Ancestry.com:

German (Grüber) and Jewish (Ashkenazic): topographic name for someone who lived in a depression or hollow, from (respectively) Middle High German gruobe, German Grube ‘pit’, ‘hollow’ + the suffix -er denoting an inhabitant.

I found this very interesting. I’m a transplant to Lawrence, Kansas from southeast Kansas, which had a large mining history in its past. You can read more about that from the LJWorld story, “Mining’s Legacy, A Scar On Kansas.”

Southeast Kansas is known for its “strip pits,” which removed a lot of the earth in pursuit of precious materials and, in turn, left behind quite a few ruts (and places to fish). And so, quite literally, I am Eric J. Gruber, and I come from a place with pits.

Amazing!

In my search, I also found another less common definition from Urban Dictionary:

A bearded-stallion of a man. Always heterosexual.

That one gave me quite a chuckle. Stallion!

Eric J Gruber

 

Why I told my kids that Santa isn’t real

Last night, my wife and I told our children that Santa Claus isn’t real.

It might be difficult to under the duality of this: it was a difficult choice to make, and it was also imperative that we do so. Allow me to explain.

Long before I had children I had it in my head I was going to be upfront with my kids about Santa. I’m not quite sure how it happened (perhaps the blame can come from being a tired, shirt-stained-with-baby-puke new dad), but it got away from me. Before long, I was on a sleigh ride out of my control.

Last week, Ember got some mail that had in it a map of the world. She loves it. We taped it to the wall and she started investigating her new treasure. “Have you ever been there? Mommy’s been there! Oh, look, there’s Portland (where I attended DrupalCon this year)!” And then she saw Antarctica.

“Is that where Santa lives,” she asked?

“No. He lives at the North Pole,” I said.

You big *&^%&# liar. So much for the truth, eh?

Strike one, as they say.

Fast forward to Sunday. I stumbled across the knowledge that Ember thought we lied to her earlier this year about Amy’s pregnancy. I was devastated. She didn’t understand that we had lost the pregnancy, and since the baby didn’t show up, we must have lied to her.

Strike two.

My league only allows for two strikes, especially after Sunday’s doozy. After thinking about it for most of the day yesterday, I knew what had to be done. Amy and I discussed it, and proceeded with the truth.

Remi didn’t seem to care (or maybe she doesn’t quite understand), but Ember was a big bag of tears. We talked through it and got to the core the issue: She was really hoping for a certain gift (having been through months of “No you can’t get that, Christmas is coming”) and thought Santa was the only way that could happen.

We assured her: there will be gifts. There will be gifts because we love them and want to give them some presents. We told her the cruel, hard truth: mommy and daddy work hard to provide for our family. We told them both that we will give them presents not because of some list that tracks rights and wrongs, but simply because we love them very, very much.

The tears went away. The smile reappeared. And a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I actually felt lighter.

(And yes, in case you’re wondering: we’ve warned them that not every parent decides to tell their kids this news, so she should keep quiet for now.)

And so, I tucked my sweet little girls into their beds, gave kisses and hugs and said good night. The last thing Ember said assured me I had made the right decision.

“Maybe you can dress up as Santa Claus,” she said with a smile.

I think that’s an excellent idea.

No gifts, please.

Do you remember what it was like as a kid when your birthday rolled around?

My mom would ask me what kind of cake I wanted, and she’d make it herself. She would buy cake tins for Soundwave (Transformers), R2-D2, and a few others I can’t remember. Friends would come over, games would be played, cake and homemade ice cream would be eaten.

What an experience. Summer birthdays are awesome.

Of course, I’d also get gifts. I remember when I got … well … no, I don’t. I had toys, I played with toys, and I had lots of fun playing with toys.

But I’ve reached a point in my life that I don’t want for gifts (much). I don’t want more things in the house, but less. The exact opposite is true for experiences, however. As a busy parent in the Great Recession, there aren’t as many opportunities as I’d like right now for life experiences. Be it time, or money, those types of things are harder to come by these days.

Given the choice, I’d take an experience (or a surprise; I love enigmatic events) of any kind over any tangible gift every time. Let the kids have the gifts.

Today is my birthday. I am thirty-six years old. No need to say the obligatory words.

And no gifts, please.

Bewbs

The internet it all abuzz today about a new TIME magazine cover story about extreme attachment parenting. I’d link to the story, but the penny-pinchers at TIME require a subscription to view it. Screw ’em.

As a parent with two children who were both breastfed, I know how important breastfeeding is. The National Institute of Health has found there are many benefits to breastfeeding an infant, including fewer illnesses, a stronger immune system and healthy brain development. There’s lots of great things in breast milk that can help a baby grow into a vibrant toddler. Some women can’t breastfeed, that’s OK and nothing to be ashamed of.

It’s a very personal choice, but obviously a right that every mother should have the ability to breastfeed. The question that arose from the (dramatic and extremist) TIME cover was, “How long should a mother breastfeed?”

The simple answer: As long as she wants.

And then there’s the “opinions are like a-holes” category, which I’ll dance around for a minute.

The NIH studies say great things about breastfeeding for an infant to a toddler, but what about after that? Do the nutritional needs of a toddler change enough that breast milk doesn’t provide everything? I don’t have the answers to that, but the question is one that should be asked: “Is breast milk sufficient for the needs of a toddler? What about preschool age? Kindergarten? Grade school?”

Without hard data, it’s hard for me to say it should or should not be done. The thing I am worried about, from society as a whole, is how we seem to be raising children who believe that they are in control instead of parents taking authority. You see this a lot in helicopter parents. I overheard a story from someone who worked in financial aid at a university who had been overwhelmed with parents taking care of the business side of their child’s enrollment. Of course, the actual student isn’t anywhere to be found in these stories because helicopter mom or dad are taking care of it all.

My concern is the possible correlation between attachment parents and helicopter parenting. When do we let children be children instead of always hovering? Can a child’s creative mind be opened if they’re always protected? Will critical thinking come from a generation who hasn’t learn to fill out a FAFSA form?

In a way, I see the fringe elements of parenting kind of like smoking. You should absolutely have the right to do it (as long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ rights). But there is a huge warning label attached: The longer you do this, it might have undesirable consequences. Proceed with caution.

Glasses

I forgot my glasses today.

It’s so slow around the office, and with so many people out of the city leading up to the Christmas weekend, I knew that busting across town was going to be easy. So, I took a quick break and headed home for my spectacles.

My wife runs a preschool in our home and this month she’s been teaching the kiddos about the different traditions as part of her curriculum. There’s been talk about menorahs, mangers, white-bearded gift-bringers; you get the gist. Today, they were discussing Kwanzaa.

That’s where I come in. I come in the house, interrupting the story time, apologize and go looking for my glasses. Have you ever interrupted storytime? It’s like stabbing a beehive.

Anyway, I search and find my glasses. As I’m making my way out the door, I turn and tell the kids “It was great to see you all again.  You all have a Merry Christmas.”

And then I add, “Or whatever it is you celebrate.”

My wife clued me in. “Everybody here celebrates Christmas,” she said.

And in less than one second, my oldest, information sponge brained, five-year-old daughter said, “Because we’re not black.”

Oh, dear heavens. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?

Regardless of your race and all that jazz, Merry Christmas!*

* Or whatever it is you celebrate.

They’re sleeping.

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“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.” – Yoda

Yesterday Ember (my oldest child) asked me if I’d play with her. So we sat down on our bed and played with her new toys, Polly Pocket and Littlest Pet Shop figurines.

The bedsheets were all ruffled up, and her wonderful mind found mountains, caves, hills, Garden City (where some of her relatives live in real life), and even a special place for her toys to sleep.

That is what you see here. They are on their side, and as I was looking at them she said to me “They’re sleeping.”