Category Archives: Family

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.”

Tipping

We spent all day Saturday visiting Worlds of Fun, and has reserved a room across the street at a Holiday Inn to spend the night in a little weekend staycation of sorts.

I was looking forward to the stay. I had three bad customer service issues in Lawrence last week and was ready to spend money somewhere where I’d be given service in proper fashion. Right off the bat, I was impressed with the Holiday Inn. It was a big place with lots of room, ample parking and a suite with a king size bed, a foldaway bed for the 4-year-old kiddo, and they even brought up a crib for the 2-year-old.

As a silly sidenote, I’m totally in love with Holiday Inn’s logo. There’s something about that green gradient that I really like.

Things were looking up. Then we went to breakfast.

It was fine, but when I went to pay, there was someone else in front of me at the register, so I waited patiently to settle the tab. Then a couple of people showed up on the opposite side of the register. When the guy in front of me was finished, the woman working the register turned to the lady that showed up long after I had been in line and started working on her bill.

“Humrph,” I thought to myself.

After she was done, the woman turned to me, then to the guy behind the lady that just finished up and said “Who’s next?” The guy deferred to me, and I went ahead. Of course, I should have been well before him and the lady in front of him since I had been waiting the longest, but whatever.

But after I was done, I heard the woman at the register say to the other fellow, “I’m sorry for your wait.”

“Sorry for your wait? What? Didn’t you see me this whole time?” Of course, I didn’t say that. I just kept in inside and went on my way.

I left without tipping. It was a buffet, I reasoned, and it’s not like they really did anything. Besides, they barely even noticed me.

I didn’t think anything more of it. I went upstairs, finished packing and brushed my teeth. With my Sonicare on full blast, I walked around the room. The youngest of my spawn, Remi, was looking out the window. We were on the third floor, and the window overlooked the interior, specifically, the dining area we had just returned from.

As we stood there looking out the window, I noticed the dining area workers doing their thing. They were cleaning up the mess left behind from all us who had eaten at the buffet. Everything looked great. All the tables were set up perfectly, like no one had even been there, ready for the next meal. I had noticed that the night before – the tables were arranged perfectly for breakfast, with order, ready to make an impression on us hungry diners.

Then I noticed the shoes. All of the women who worked in that dining area had sneakers on.

I worked at Toys R Us for five years during college; I know what that means – those people were on their feet, on the move, all the time. They needed something comfortable because the job was demanding on their feet.

You jerk. You big, fat, American jerk,” I thought to myself.

I rinsed out my mouth, explained that I need to do something to Amy, and headed downstairs. I found one of the women, vacuuming around (of course) the table we had sat at and handed her my standard 20-percent tip.

“I forgot to give this before,” I said. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem, hon,” she said with a smile. “I’ll share it with the girls, thanks.”

“Great,” I said. “OK.”

And that was that. What a heel. Everyone has their reasons for rationalizing however amount that is given for tipping (see also: Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs). But for me, I had to stop and think: these workers brought out food for us to pick aplenty from, cleaned up our mess (and with two children, there’s always a mess) and then made it look perfect  for the next meal. Am I really going to leave them nothing extra?

I can’t believe I can be so obtuse sometimes.

Parenting and a unicorn

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Thanks to some free tickets I won from our local TV news station, 6 News Lawrence, I took the family to World of Fun on Saturday for a quick getaway.

While there, my daughter Ember (seen above) saw a face painter and inquired about getting it done.

“We’ll see,” I said.

It’s always “We’ll see” with my kids and things that cost money. They’re fickle. They change their minds. They’re not sure what they want. So, I start with “no” or “maybe” and see if they persist.

I do the same thing at work. I say no a lot. It helps weed out the serious requests from the ones that are truly needed or truly desired from the requests that aren’t well thought out.

But this time, the requests persisted. “Daddy, can I get my face painted? Can we find out about getting my face painted? Daddy, please?”

Oh, all right. Let’s go find out.

I was expecting a $5 face painting. I was prepared to go as high as $7. It is, after all, someone doing art on a canvas of sorts.

But the face-painting was priced by the type of image chosen. Of course, my daughter picked the one with a unicorn that was $14.99. After feeling my heart sink into my stomach, I gave an awkward “We’ll need to go ask mommy” response and walked away.

There was  no way I was going to pay $15 for something that would be washed off by morning. No. Way.

I told the wife. She agreed; that is a lot of money, perhaps too much, for something as fleeting as a face painting. So I told Ember, knowing she’d be disappointed but hoping for the best.

I was unprepared for the tears that followed and what I call “The saddest face known to man.”

“Amy, don’t we have a responsibility to teach our kids about buying things of value,” I pleaded? “Shouldn’t we teach them to be somewhat responsible with money? I mean, this thing is just going to get washed off and …”

“Yes,” Amy stopped me. “But, it does hold value to her. She enjoys getting her face painted.”

“And how much did your motorcycle cost?”

Touché.

It’s not that we didn’t have they money. My parents had sent us some cash before we left, so the cost of the face painting was made moot. But in my fashion typical, I was questioning missing out on a lesson of money and value.

In turn, I was missing out on a greater lesson: to discover and celebrate the things my daughter likes and encourage them, even if they cost more money than I deem worthy of the expense.

And so, $14.99 later, my daughter, my wonderful, sweet princess of a daughter, had her unicorn face painting. She was beaming and she even received several compliments from people who walked up to her, unprovoked, just to tell her how great her face painting was.

And I took a picture. In fact, I took several pictures to keep the image long after the paint is gone.

Lesson learned. It was worth every penny.

You can’t go home again

As I write this, I’m in the bedroom of my youth.

It’s not the same, though. It’s now a “guest bedroom,” with a gigantic iMac, soft pastels and beach decor.

As if that isn’t different enough, it is also clean.

This might be the same room, but it’s a far cry from how I left it.

Grabbing a dream by the neck

My wife started a business on Aug. 1, 2010.

Tiny Tykes Playcare logoThe business, Tiny Tykes Playcare, is something she’s wanted to do for a long time. Amy has worked for some preschools in the Lawrence and Topeka areas, but she always had this idea that she would like to be doing her own thing.

Last year she got the idea that she was finally going to go out and achieve her dream. She wanted to start her own in-home preschool program.

So, she did.

How’s it going? She started in August with 20 open slots and currently only has six available.

I’d say she’s doing quite well. Actually, I’ll go much further than that. I will say that I am very, very proud of her.

Amy has tapped into the thing she’s really passionate about, teaching kids between 18 months and five years of age, and is rocking at it. The kids follow a curriculum, make art projects, sing, play and all the other great stuff that preschools should have you do. The TV hasn’t even been on during class hours since she’s started.

This isn’t daycare. It’s a place of learning.

I’m really into the idea of the American dream. You know the one: work hard, go after your dreams and you will be successful. I know about the lizard brain and how you need to make it shut up to make your dreams come to fruition. I’ve read about how work sucks and how there’s nothing stopping you from pursuing your own work on your own time with your own terms. I’m inspired by people who have thought about “you get busy living or get busy dying” and have chosen to make their own way.

With all that knowledge, you’d think I’d be her biggest backer. I hate to say it, but I wasn’t – at least, not at first. Oh, sure, I supported her in the way a husband is supposed to back his wife, but there was a twinge of fear in me. She’s been working some dead-end part-time jobs to make ends meet since the birth of our first child four years ago and I was reluctant for her to give up the “security” of a make-ends-meet paycheck.

The thing is, deep down inside, I don’t believe in “secure” jobs that much. I believe in people and their ability to follow their passions and their capability to learn what it takes to have those passions also provide an income.

Amy is doing that. She’s happy now with her work. At the end of the day, she has tangible proof that her students are learning and absorbing the things she’s teaching them.

I think that’s awesome. It turns out I had the lizard brain, because my wife knew what she needed to do all along.

And so, the lesson has been learned. My wife doesn’t gripe about the economy and how it’s holding her back. She hasn’t griped about the government and how it isn’t friendlier toward business. She doesn’t mope around because she didn’t take action on what she wants. No, instead she works hard every day to make sure she’s kicking butt at being an excellent teacher to the kids whose parents have blessed us with their presence.

I am humbled.

I am inspired.

I am thankful to be with an amazing person who realized her dream and grabbing it by the neck.

Should you be doing likewise?

Second Thanksgiving

Tomorrow will  be the second Thanksgiving dinner we’ve had where family comes eats with us instead of us traveling.

The last time didn’t go so well. We were living in a total craphole we rented through Gage Management (a sorry little company if I might say) and my wife’s parents came to eat dinner with us. This was in 2005, pre kids.

It was a good dinner, but Amy’s parents got into a bit of a tiff toward the end. Little did we know that their relationship would go downhill after that. We were unaware they were having problems and in less than a year, they were separated. They divorced in the year following their separation.

And now, here we are, doing it again. Her mom remarried a few months ago and will join us with her new husband. With any luck, her sister and her two children will be able to come as well (my wife’s brother-in-law has to work, sadly).

Despite the turmoil that has brought us to this point, it’s nice to know we’ll be having family in our home – and this time, it’s one we own.

Here’s to new beginnings, second chances and renewal.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re one of the top 85% of the richest people in the world. Be thankful.