Tagged Eric

For everyone who has a middle child...

Stuck In The Middle With You – From One Middle Child To Another

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“I don’t love you anymore.”

These words would strike a dagger into the hearts of most parents. The child you helped bring in this world – the one who you STILL help get his shoes on EVERY TIME he leaves the house – the one you feed 2 times before you even sit down at the dinner table – your own child who you sacrifice your own needs for routinely.

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These words don’t get to me – because I have said them myself – many times growing up.

You see – I am a middle child, same as my son. You can call us middles – you can throw out phrases like “middle-child syndrome,” you can try to define us, but we’re as difficult to define as irony, (Alanis Morissette is a middle child.)

So being a middle child, my heart goes out to my son. It’s not easy being a kid – and it’s really not easy being a middle child. All my old feelings I had growing with my older (good looking, football playing) brother, and my little sister (who got away with murder) they all come back when I see my son.

When I wasn’t getting beat up by my older brother, I was seeing all the things my sister got that I didn’t get at the same age. And the poundings never stopped me from sticking up to my brother- that’s gotta be some middle thing.

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“You’re not my friend. And you never will be.”

Coming from one of my daughters, this would sting, of course, but only one of them can talk – and the other would never mean it, so I am safe for a while. But I hear this phrase from Asher, and my brain processes it as “Give me a break dad.”

A middle never gets the undivided attention of his parents-like my eldest did for 2 years before we had another baby. A middle never feels the unbridled joy of the last baby – the one that we, as parents, always say ‘let’s appreciate and savor this because it’s the last time we’ll do it.’

NO.

I could tell him “I understand” but that’s the last thing a middle wants to hear. I know better than that – you couldn’t possible understand.

LOTS OF GOOD IN THE MIDDLE

So, in thinking about my son, and all these middle traits – I realized it’s not just about empathy for my middle son- truth be told, I am kinda proud to be a middle myself. So I came up with a top 5 qualities I see in my son that may be attributed to his birth order:

4.  Negotiation skills: When you have an older and younger sibling, your life is about negotiation.  You have to learn to talk  to get your way- and I already see my son as a master negotiator.  “I’m hungry Papa.  Chocolate has protein in it.” *nods*

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3. Independence: All the times he’s playing with friends and just kind of drops back, and starts doing his own thing, I remember that I still battle the desire to be a ‘lone wolf.’ There’s just something displeasing about wanting to be with a pack sometimes – it seems like it would be fun- but it’s never as cool as you expect. I feel you son.

2. I Will Be Heard: I am glad he can express himself the way that he does. Sure, he says hurtful things, and sure he says things over and over again to emphasize his point. But, he is not sitting idly by. He has a sense of rebellion that I have always appreciated in kids – I sometimes wonder how many members of The Ramones or Sex Pistols were middle children?

Maybe it’s the middle child in me, but I decided to leave off #1 and #5 – sometimes, that’s the only ones people read in these lists.  I guess one of them might be something about being contrary.  So what?

 

 

Star Wars Blog

10 Parenting Lessons Learned From Star Wars

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So, not long ago, in a galaxy all too familiar, there was a rainy day, and restless siblings at odds with each other. A decision was made to join the rebel alliance, and begin the Star Wars experience.

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Since then, There have been moments of great despair, a night of confusion when the kids find out the relationship of Darth Vader and Luke (I’ll never forget the looks I got that night, as if all father’s were now suspect), there were times for parents to cringe (J.J. Binks), and times to rejoice for all.

But what we didn’t expect were the major parenting wins.   Important themes and life lessons frequently met with eye rolls when coming from the mouths of my wife or myself, but suddenly appreciated and heard thanks to new friends in a galaxy far, far away.

  1. Use The Force.
    Perhaps long ago, midi-chlorians were necessary to access the all-encompassing Force. Thankfully today, we have the knowledge of, and power to use Conflict Resolution. We all have the ability to solve problems, calmly with Jedi-like zen – and not let fear rule our lives and decision making ability. And we know “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
  2. Choices made in anger are usually not our best choices.
    How many times did I use my Yoda voice in my head when my middle child revolted putting shoes on, instead slinging them to the other side of the room. “Mmmm… much anger I sense in you. Anger is the path to the dark side.”

This actually helps me from becoming angry and to use the FORCE to solve problems. And that’s just for my benefit. Hopefully my daughter will eventually learn that it’s much harder to build up your block tower when you’re angrily throwing blocks at the tower. This also leads to…

  1. Problems are best solved when we are calm.
    Young Padawan learner, “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

So in other words, when you’re brother takes your toy, and runs away, find a way to make peace, not scream, cry and chase with harmful intent.

  1. Conflicts are going to happen.
    I love the squabbles of C3PO and R2D2. They are connected to eachother through all the movies, but they also drive their hard drive’s batty sometimes.

Much like the relationships of … well anybody in the household. We love each other, we are dedicated to each other. And we will drive each other crazy.
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  1. Size doesn’t always matter.
    From birth, our oldest daughter has been in the bottom of the percentiles for weight and height. She’s petite and likely always will be. But she has this longstanding dream of being “the biggest kid”. Friendships have been cast aside because a friend (truthfully) told her that she was the shorter child.   So when our kids got to watch Yoda do battle with Count Dooku, my wife didn’t hesitate to point out that Yoda was physically smaller than his nemesis. Yet, not only did he hold his own, he clearly is a great warrior with a smaller stature. Therefore, it’s ok to be smaller because:
  1. Hard work and perseverance are the way to achieve your goals.
    You may be angry, you may be sad, you may be scared, or you want to give up. Your ship may be deep at the bottom on a swamp in the Degobah system. But if you stick with your work, with your training, you can be a magnatile jedi, or a math jedi. Learn from your failures, and continue to push forward.
  1. Even when things seem darkest, there is always reason to hope.
    Maybe this one is more for us as parents. Even when your kids didn’t nap, and have been fighting for an hour, and at your heels with every move you make, you know that bedtime is coming. “Mmmm… sleep they will.” I say to my wife, “I am not afraid!” and she responds back: “You will be, you will be.”
  1. “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
    You see it with Jengo Fett/Boba Fett, the climax with Darth Vader saving Luke from the Emperor, and even when Shmi Skywalker lets her only son go with the Jedi, there’s a feeling that these movies are a lot about relationships between parents and their kids. Our kids think a lot differently than we do – and that is an amazing thing that we should all appreciate.
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  1. Silly Jedi, Mind Tricks are for all of us.
    Obi Wan might consider this an abuse of power, but my wife and I were pleasantly surprised how we can use The Force to our advantage over our kids. “You do not want to stay awake, you want to go right to sleep.” OK, that worked 0 times.
    How about when we pass the $1 bin at Target, you just wave your hand and say: “These are not the toys you are looking for.”
    What Jedi Mind Tricks do you think your kids may be playing on you?
  1. Love wins. Always.
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What do you do on date nights?

Date Night: 99 Problems But Bedtime Ain’t One

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Date night – September 2015.

We get this one night, this one chance for glory. Tonight, there is no bedtime. Tonight, there we will be hearing no request for an extra book, a last drink of water. Tonight, we ride.

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6:00 – We feed the kids corn dogs, (thank you Trader Joe’s). The quandary begins. I so rarely think about what I am wearing. For work, I dress in the pitch black. Tonight, I have to pick a shirt, a special shirt. This shirt needs to be more than just clean, it needs to make my partner hungry for my time and attention.  “Yeah … but this T-shirt – now that would be much more comfortable than anything with buttons … Hmmm.”

6:30 – The kids are running around after dinner, throwing around their energy like Donald Trump throws around successful business ventures. I can taste it now – food that someone else has cooked for me- no dishes. A beer – with dinner, no less – unthinkable on any other weeknight. Man, I can’t wait – THE FREEDOM. What beer will I order? Something exotic maybe. Something shipped from the shores of Belgium, delivered specifically for me.

6:45 – A kid fight breaks out over a rubber duck.
What will we talk about? Grown up stuff. Sophisticated fair. The upcoming election? Alissa is the only person I like to discuss politics with. Hmmm .. maybe music. Or just something random. Maybe we’ll be eccentric: we’ll walk in, order some fancy beers, dressed in our clothes that we never really wear (out of fear of spills) … eccentric people need hats. Wait? What? Screaming! “OK, kids, how do we solve this problem with the rubber ducks?”

7:00 – Sitter arrives. Never look back, walk directly to the car, now run, “RUN!” Minds are changed all the time.

7:10 – Why have we not yet put on any of our old hip music and seranaded each other? Why have we not said a word? It’s silence. And what used to be scary is now BADASS. Silence. YES.

7:11 – I put on Wilco – just because that last thought made me feel a lot older than I need to feel tonight.

7:25 – We arrive – at a bar. Kids are not even allowed here. “LET’S SPLURGE – Get crazy in this mofo. FREEDOM!”

7:35 – “Someone is smoking at that table.” Grrr… “We’ll share a burger, please.”

8:00 – Our beer surplus is much better (and cheaper) at home, “let’s go home and drink a beer there, and enjoy being at home. I kinda miss our kids, don’t you?”

 

“We’ll try this again next month?”

“Yes! Next month, we make it to 10 – We can do it!”

“But, wasn’t it great to not put the kids to bed?”

 

 

Our first steps into homeschooling

Homeschool: Into The Great Wide Open

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What is the ideal learning environment for your kids?

Is it the best public school tax dollars can buy? Is it a private school that keeps you broke but your kids engaged? What about a puddle of mud, 4 sticks, and no worries of how dirty you child will get?

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If you’re a parent, then chances are, you’ve stressed about your child’s education. What teacher will my kid get? Will there be a behavior chart? What in the world will I have to deal with to pick up my kids everyday?

We all have our different take on school, that’s why there are so many options, because, let’s face it, kids learn in different ways, so experiences can be quite different, even for 2 kids at the same school.

My wife and I want our kids to have access to nature and lots of it. We want them to have a sense of wonderment attached to their learning, and we want the kids (especially my son) to be encouraged to move and play to learn, and not sit in a chair. And we wanted to see it all from our backyard. So, our answer became clear, we could homeschool, or as my wife prefers to call it: “home based learning and exploration.”

Now, I was homeschooled in high school, and I just needed to finish my reading assignment before an upcoming rerun of Chips, or complete my ethics workbook in time to watch Maury Povich (you laugh, but it’s true). So – not exactly a challenging, or inspiring atmosphere, so you can understand my slight hesitation when my wife proposed the idea of homeschool to me (“What? Why? Are you crazy?”)

But there’s nothing like coming home from work to my kids like this:

 

I am now a believer, seeing how homeschool can look.

We are only providing instruction to our kids based on their interests, so they are always enthused about learning, and any and all learning opportunities are child led. We are constantly challenging ourselves to encourage our kids to extend an idea, or use something in a different way.

As my wife and I are both educators, we understand that teaching children is never a one-size-fits-all situation, and our kids are vastly different and we try to honor that by presenting them each with provocations that learn toward their individual strengths.

For example, our son NEEDS rich sensory experiences like a duck needs water. So in our environment, we provide him with meaningful sensory experiences. Practicing scooping and measuring flour, whisking bubbles, pouring water into different containers, drawing with chalk pastels, painting, manipulating clay all meet his need for in depth tactile experiences while providing practical life applications and creative expression and problem solving. (pictures)

If you are interested in homeschooling, here are some tips:

  1. Designate an area in your home for learning (we renovated our backyard patio into a classroom, but it could be as simple as designating a corner of a dining room – a clearly defined space relaxes the children by letting them know they have a space of their own, where they can have freedom within limits.)
  2. Develop and (continue to) hone your patience. You will need it. Lots of it. Truckloads. I firmly believe that no child will test your patience like your own child; and your kids definitely know this.
  3. Refrain from answering their questions with answers. Answer questions with more questions. Shoot for open-ended questions to bring out their own ideas and their train of thought. There are no wrong answers. Google is here to stay. We are no longer teaching facts and figures to our children, we’re teaching them how to think for themselves.
  4. Plan daily instead of long term, using your observations of what they are into, and let their questions guide where you go next.
  5. Observe, observe, observe. Take notes. Look deeper. Keep asking questions of yourself and how you can better facilitate your child’s experience. This is so, so, so important and should serve as your very own individualized pedagogy for your own children’s education.
  6. Give your child lots of social opportunities. sports, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding!, ice skating!, art classes, these are very important things. Giving your children experiences of their own is important for their confidence and development. Homeschooling takes much less time of the day than traditional school giving plenty of time for unstructured play AND extracurriculars. Win!
  7. Find or create a community of likeminded parents that you can draw upon and share with. Don’t go it alone.
  8. Find experts within the community that can teach classes (authentic art classes, Spanish, etc.)
  9. Be flexible. It may not be for your kid every year. Follow their lead. I do plan on taking my son to my wonderful Pre-K school next year, if I can.  I feel like the whole child philosophy at my school and nature/nurture components are just perfectly in line with our own philosophy, so yes, I do hope to take him to my school next year, provided that is still a good fit for him.
  10. Give up the TV during school time.  Facebook too. And screens, as much as you can. Just be present for your kids.
  11. Extended recess everyday. There’s no such thing as too much outdoor time. Ever.

 

Stress = insomnia = racing thoughts.

Trauma, Insomnia, and Making The World A Better Place

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TRAUMA

In the last month, my family moved to a new home.

I remember how hard it was to move to a new city where we didn’t know anyone 10 years ago, and how hard it was to move to our previous house 6 years ago.

It didn’t deter us from wanting to move again, “oh how fun,” we thought. But there was just a little, tiny detail that I forgot that was different this time: Now, we have 3 kids.

This time, moving wasn’t hard, oh no.

It was traumatic.

Stress = insomnia = racing thoughts.

INSOMNIA

I battled insomnia, each night when I laid to rest, I punched my imaginary time card, and my shift began. It was such work to try to fall asleep. The hardest part was listening to the rest of my family sleep so freaking soundly – even and especially our infant. I can’t count how many times I hoped for my kids to wake up screaming, or fussing, at least then I would have something to blame terrible sleep on. Sometimes, I would gently prod my wife, hoping she would wake up and I could ask her “what’s wrong?” Maybe then, we could talk about it. Sometimes, I just blatantly woke her up.

I sat, each night and thought about what I was doing to make the world a better place. That’s right, merely functioning in the moment wasn’t enough, I wanted to have a plan, to sort out what I could do to make the world a better place for my kids.

And mind you, I realize I can’t even get my son to put on his shoes to leave the house, so making the world a better place likely only added to my stress level… like kindling to the fire of my insomnia.

THE HIPPY HIPPY TASK: MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

Sure, it is pretty hippy to think that we can even make the world a better place, sure there’s part of me that realizes that I don’t even know my neighbors, or the closest grocery store. But, as a parent, these thoughts come to me; I can’t help it. Do they come to you? At 2 AM? Please tell me they do.

Trust me, I don’t think of myself as any great savior, but I feel like I can be a part of change and it starts with my kids, and continues with my life as an educator.

To be honest, I don’t think the world is a bad place. To quote The Tick, “That’s where I keep all my stuff.”
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I love life, I love the world we live in, but some things need to change. We have to keep pushing for change. We have to take a clear look at reality. We have to have difficult conversations, with our own kids. Because if we don’t, then we are allowing everything else they are exposed to help form their opinions, (video games, friends, not friends, TV, etc.).

When I first became a parent, I thought teaching my daughter to treat people equally was enough; but now I know it’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.

WHAT CAN WE DO AS PARENTS?

I think we all would benefit from making a blue print of how we can affect change in our world, and what change we’re wanting to affect, and what trouble we’re willing to go through toward that end.

The start of my blueprint (I will finish eventually finish in place of sleep):

TALKING TO MY KIDS

Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about social justice and injustices. As a white family, I feel it’s very important to talk about our the imbalanced power structure that benefits our race far more than any other. I am working toward opening a continued dialogue, learning about trials of the past, helping them to understand that racism is not always blatant in our society. This is a part of creating change. I feel I’ve stood idly by for far too long and worried about how I treated people, instead of how the world at large treats minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and women.

NOT ACCEPTING THE WORLD AS IS

There has been progress in the U.S. Social victories if you will. If my kids and your kids identify as LGBTQ, their lives will be just a little easier than mine would have if I had been gay. There’s more support, same sexes finally have the right to get married. That’s really good, but it’s not even close to enough.

DON’T LIVE IN A BUBBLE

After leaving the newspaper business, I deliberately avoided any current events that stretched beyond my block. But, as a parent, there’s more of a responsibility (as if that’s what parent’s need, even more responsibility) to stay abreast of current events; and then to clue our kids in; in a developmentally appropriate way.

Sometimes it’s hard to see or read about the horrible things happening in our society. But digesting them, working out ways for you to teach lessons to your kids, making them advocates for change, this is how we create change.

So, I know we have hundreds of little battles everyday with kids, I know that it’s stressful to change our household for the better. I know I haven’t slept 8 hours any day in a month, I know I will never move again, I know I will someday forget I ever said that. But we’re all part of a bigger picture, so I ask of all of us, how are we making the world a better place?

Practical tips for talking about gender roles with your kids

Getting Social: A Gender Neutral Dialogue

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In the world we live, there is a constant sliding scale that is our social evolvement. In social evolution, not all of us are at the same place, there are many factors, background, exposure, education just being a few. This is an exciting time to be a parent, as many social issues are coming to the forefront, and that sliding scale is moving forward for many. It is a perfect time to start a dialogue now with your kids about social justice, and discuss issues, like gender, race, equality and consent. Our children are not only advocates for the future, but also advocates for change now. This is the first part in a series of articles about the discussions of social justice with my kids.

Practical tips for talking about gender roles with your kids

MY BEGINNINGS WITH GENDER NEUTRAL PARENTING:

First of all, there are many, many misgivings on gender-neutral parenting: (discussed here.) As a kid, I liked Boy George, and Depeche Mode, and wore earrings, and even once had my naval pierced. It never seemed odd to me, but it did seem odd to others in West Texas.

When I became a parent, the phrase ‘gender-neutral’ was not at all on my radar. As I continue the process of parenting, I have learned a lot. I hope to raise my kids in an environment that encourages freedom for personal growth, period. Wait, that lacks emphasis, I guess I should type it in all caps: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. PERIOD.

Many things we do, without even thinking about them, encourage gender stereotypes.

Girls: We talk more to them. We compliment them, how they look, how pretty they are. Words we use: cute, pretty, princess, sweetie, cupcake, etc.

Boys: We talk about their future conquests, how they could end up as the next linebacker for The Cowboys, how they are so tough, no one will mess with them.   Words we use: heartbreaker, lady killer, or the less insidious but equally divisive; athletic, strong, wild, brute.

ELSA SPARKS A DIALOGUE 

So, let’s go into when I realized I needed to have this dialogue. Way way back in the Frozen –crazed days of 2014 (shudder: I swore I’d never speak of them), there was an argument in our house:

My daughter tells my son: “You can’t be Elsa, she’s a girl, you can be Sven.”

This was a pretty telling statement, 1. That gender trumped species, (though to be honest, my 3 year and Sven share similar eating – and likely, hygiene habits.) 2. There was an understanding that in play, boys were boys and girls were girls, regardless of species even. That’s when I started to be more aware of the gender-controlled world we live in.

Just after the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage, I talked with my daughter about love and gender.

Me: Adelaide, do you think that men can love men and women can love women, like I love your mom?

A:  Yeah, I know that.

Me: What do you think of that?

A: I like it. Wait, Do you mean like mommies and daddies?

Me: Well yeah. Some families have a mommy and daddy like you, some have 2 daddies, some have 2 mommies. 

A: Aww, how sweet.

Me: Yeah, 2 men and 2 women can love each other, and can have families, just like a man and a woman can. But not everyone likes that. Some people don’t think that people of the same gender
should be married.

A: That’s so mean of them. I think they should be married.

Me: I agree with you, and so does the law now. I think that love is love, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are.

Adelaide smiles in agreement.


But a couple days later, it was a harder discussion about clothes and toys:

Me: Adelaide, do you think there are some clothes just for girls?

A: Ummm, dresses, and skirts.

Me: Do you know that in some places, boys and men wear something called kilts?

We look it up on google images.

A: That’s only in pretend land.

Me: Let me ask you this, is it OK for you to wear boys clothes?

A: I can wear what Asher wears. Pants and shorts and shirts.

Me: Ok, so, can he wear what you wear?

A: No, silly, boys don’t wear pink.

Me: I wear pink.

A: Well, my teacher said boys don’t wear girl’s stuff, and she knows everything.

This helped me realize that there are lots of influences that a child has, and I’m only one of them. In many classrooms, there definitely exists very specific gender lines and roles – that go along with toys, dress up clothes and even class jobs. Getting to know them is part of being an advocate for your child, and will help in your continued dialogue.

Me: What about pretend play? Is it OK to pretend to be a boy or a girl?

A: yes. I like to pretend I am a boy –I’m Batman (in a gruff, and surprisingly accurate Lego Batman voice)

Me: And your brother?

A: Yes. He likes to be me, and play with my toys.

Me: You like that he likes to be you? (shocked)

A: Yes… sometimes – as long as he doesn’t copy.

BUILDING PARENTING WINS – 1 VIRTUAL LEGO AT A TIME

So, we had this proud parenting moment in our house recently when playing The Lego Movie video game. In the game, you can switch between a wide assortment of Lego characters and superheroes.

She felt an affinity for Batman, while she was curious about Wonder Woman, she decided she definitely preferred Batman. She ran around the house for days saying “I’m Batman!” in legit Batman voice. It made us happy that our daughter didn’t feel she HAD to be Wonder Woman, just because Wonder Woman happens to identify as Wonder Woman.

I know some people that I know would stop her if they heard, and correct her “You can be batgirl. Haven’t you heard of her?” She also wants to be Batman for Halloween. Boom.

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(Wanna have some fun? If you have both a girl and a boy, challenge them to get dressed in each other’s closet. It is a guaranteed good time. It seemed they felt like they were breaking the rules that society already set- and we all know breaking the rules feels really good.

EMOTIONS ARE FOR GIRLS AND WORK IS FOR BOYS

I have accepted that I will never have the communication skills of my wife. For instance, she can go into such detail explaining what happened during her day on the drive home from school. I have trouble mustering a 4 word statement to explain my day. “Good” or “Not bad” will usually be all I can muster. I am aware of this, and really try at it. But growing up as a male, I don’t think society challenged me to develop my communication skills.

I want both of my children to learn to deal with their emotions and communicate better than I have myself. So far so good, as Asher already is able to recognize and express his emotions more quickly than his 5 year old sister.

Ash: I’m mad

Me: You’re mad? What are you mad about?

Ash: I wanted to close the car door and jump out.

Me: Did you ask?

Ash: No.

Pauses for effect and stares at me.

Can I close the car door and jump out?

Me: Sure, just reverse the order.

At just 3 he is able to express his feelings so well, and communicate them to me, I have a lot to learn from him.

Emotions are not girl stuff. It’s life stuff. Learning how to handle your emotions is going to be pivotal in our child’s lives, and in their relationships the rest of their lives. Why would we prepare our daughters for heartbreak and conflict, but not our sons?

What’s your son going to do when he suffers his first breakup? What is he going to do when he has a conflict at work? “toughen up” is no longer an acceptable strategy.

It’s important that our kids understand their emotions, and have productive, helpful strategies to get through the big and powerful ones.

Breathing exercises have been great for our family, and we practice often when we’re happy. And sure, sometimes, when she is especially mad at me, my daughter chooses to hold her breath.

PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS ARE FOR EVERYONE

Asher loves to help cook. And he has always wanted to “put back” whatever he is playing with. Montessori schooling only tells part of the story, Adelaide on the other hand would rather do anything but cook or clean. She will occasionally spread her bed, or put clothes away, but only ever under duress. Asher doesn’t mind, ever. And he loves to do dishes.

Oh how I wait for the day when kids are doing work independently around the house, cooking, dishes, trash, and, dare I say it: laundry. It is hard to believe there was a time when laundry was thought of as girls work. Learning how to cook, to clean after yourself, to take care of things, these are life skills. How did anyone make it without this crucial training? My wife will tell you these people just found someone else to do the work for them. Ahem. But if we want to raise independent, capable, confident little humans, how can household chores be skipped?


Giving our kids the opportunities to be themselves, enjoy a wide variety of things – instead of just boy and just girl things is a great start. But I encourage you to start a dialogue with your kids, about their thoughts on all this boy/girl stuff.

 

 

Great tips to get your kids hooked on good music!

A Parent’s Guide To The Ultimate Playlist

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Great tips to get your kids hooked on good music!I think in all journals and blogs, themes begin to emerge.

A theme that you may see reoccur in my writing (even though this is a parenting blog) is the impact of late 80s, early 90s John Cusack movies.
You see, if you were raised in the Sony Walkman generation, then you know all about the connection between music and life – and the power of music. One of those moments came when John Cusack played his boombox for the girl he loved, stretching his arms in the air, so the music could be the heard at the utmost level.
I made similar moves in my courtship of my wife, I know, not very original, but I found it to be highly successful. And though those years are over, (minus the daily car serenade). I am still connecting music to life and constantly making the ultimate playlist for my family.

THE MAKING OF AN ULTIMATE PLAYLIST:

CAUTION: If making a playlist consists of finding your favorite genre of music on Spotify, and clicking shuffle all, read no further. This is NOT for you!

Make no mistake, the makings of a great playlist is an art form, and rules definitely apply. In the words of John Cusack in High Fidelity: “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.” My top five rules for making a playlist for your own family are as follows:

Parenting guide to a mixtape

RULE 1: INTRODUCE YOUR KIDS TO A VAST AMOUNT OF MUSIC

There have been hits and misses when introducing music to my kids. For about 2 years, Adelaide was obsessed with The Beatles. She learned even the obscure songs, like “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number.” She loved when all the teenagers screamed at Beatles concerts, and even picked up a favorite Beatle: Paul. We watched the movies, and liked all of them, except Help.

But as successful as The Beatles introduction was, countless others were met with: “Turn that down!” And “Why do they sound like that?” And even “This song is for people who don’t like music!”
Some things will stick, and others won’t, that’s just how it goes.

RULE 2: DISCUSS THE MEANINGS OF SONGS

How many times have the kids corrected my lyrics? Countless. The key is to know the meanings of songs, and have discussions about what they mean. This will help someday, when you finally introduce them to the poetry of Bob Dylan, or the enigma of Milli Vanilli.

RULE 3: ORDER IS IMPORTANT

Consider that ‘shuffle’ is your true enemy. It’s like shuffling the events of your day, in random order. Let’s see, I wake up, do the dishes, cook dinner, get dressed… come on. There’s order to things – and it matters. Start with some energy. It’s a hook, then, more energy – but don’t blow the roof off, pace it out after that. Save the slower, longer songs for the end.

RULE 4: BE TRUE TO YOURSELF

Don’t allow your family playlist to include music that raises your blood pressure and sets your teeth on edge. So what if your kids love “Let it Go”. When you have tuned it out after the 4,386th listen it no longer has a place on your playlist. You are part of your family too and your opinions and taste matter most. And also, you set the tone. Allow your (obviously superior) tastes to gently guide the still impressionable and therefore malleable tastes of the younger, more inexperienced members of your household.

RULE 5: SHARE YOUR MUSIC

Compilations are meant to share- and sharing a playlist was never this easy. When I was a kid- you’d have to go to great lengths to make the same mix tape for multiple people. Now, it’s a link. Take advantage of this, and share your playlist in the comments section.

Here is my playlist with some detail, but the importance of a playlist is to share it.

  1. All Is Love – Karen O & The Kids

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND8RfApgGIA

Karen O + kids music = plain awesome. She made the soundtrack for Where The Wild Things Are, and it’s a masterpiece with just the right amount of rebelliousness, mixed with sweetness, and innocence, yet full of heart that is always longing, and searching for more.

  1. Raindrops on the Kitchen Floor – Mason Jennings

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2s3Ek38DN4

If I could only choose from the catalog of one artist to create our family’s playlist, Mason Jennings would be that guy.  He captures beautiful moments and incredible feelings in his songs – yet has a way to make them a part of everyday life.

  1. Don’t Slow Down- Matt and Kim:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_xr_oio_0I

When this song comes on in our car, look out because the kids are using whatever they can reach for drums, and singing along is not optional. Matt and Kim are THE FAVORITE in our cars.

  1. Dance, Dance, Dance – Lykke Li

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQEJ5BhxTxc

Sweet, loving, soft, and the best message ever, about being shy, but still having this overwhelming desire to dance.

  1. Body Movin’ – The Beastie Boys

Dance party song, gets all the energy out!

  1. Butterfly Nets – Bishop Allen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jcp3nPN74cM

Time to come back down with something softer. The singer’s voice is so sweet, so sincere, and again, it goes back to the innocence of youth.

  1. Young Lion – Vampire Weekend

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og77RKz1_ec

Vampire Weekend has so many amazing songs, but this one is special for our little guy, and his learning, whether it be to walk or to jump. It all takes time, and it’s hard to wait, especially when you have an older sister.

  1. I Feel It All – Feist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_v1DGyKCbc

Love this song – and emotions are a big thing in our house – all emotions are allowed and we truly do feel it all.

  1. Violet – Thao & The Get Down, Stay Down

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MvQ1pZqaqU

This was quite possibly the first song Adelaide learned enough lyrics of to be able to sing along.  That’s some kind of milestone, and besides that, Thao is simply The Shizzle.

  1. We Can’t Be Beat – The Walkmen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9r2DHgfa1Y

Dad rock at its best.  Sometimes, your life evolves seemingly in sync alongside a favorite artist.  It’s nice to grow older together.

  1. Just Try – Mason Jennings

The perfect end. Sunshine in life. Just try and say that this happens everyday – just try-and see- if that flies.

How about yours?

 

 

 

Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution: How I Stopped Worrying And Embraced The Fight

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Conflict ResolutionBeing a parent is not easy on a normal day. But then, there are those ‘other days.’

If you have not had a day where you wanted to take an ice pick to the ol’ retina, then my friend, you have not been tested like I have as a parent.

And, trust me, I am a proponent of parenting. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Sure it’s also the most challenging thing. But, nothing is quite as good without the challenge, or at least, that’s what the inspirational memes say on Google, the ones I seek out at 11:30 at night to reassure myself.

If you have multiple kids, then you know all about conflict. There are conflicts, many conflicts within a day.

Conflicts can eat you alive if you don’t have a plan. I can’t tell you what is best for you, but I do have a plan, and these next words may seem crazy, but stay with me:

EMBRACE THE CONFLICT

It is going to happen, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, as sure as we need nutrients to live (unless you’re a 5-year-old that can live off a strict diet of graham crackers and peanut butter), it is known that my son will snatch my daughter’s favorite possession right from her hands (which then becomes the only toy in the house and the last toy ever made) and run. I know my daughter will chase after him, yelling and screaming. It will happen.

What to do? Take it all in. This is really what having a sibling is after all, and the kids relish it, so why shouldn’t I?

APPROACH CALMLY

After I hear a conflict, I first check to see who’s going to be the adult to mediate, if I hear the wife’s footsteps, then I back out like a dump truck on a crowded street. (beep, beep beep).

But, if it’s me, I approach willingly. Take a deep breath, hold it in, and gently breath out. If I do that before I get involved, two things will happen:

  1. I will not burst out laughing at the (occasional) absurdity of the situation.
  2. I will keep my own emotions in check – allowing their emotions to be at the forefront, and leaving my own frustration back on the couch where I belong.

ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS

As easy as it would be to set up a judicial system, with myself as the supreme overlord, it would not help my children understand why they’re fighting, and it teaches them nothing about how to handle an argument down the road, when they are adults.

Most importantly, I want my kids to know that their feelings matter. I want them to learn empathy, so model it I must. Therefore, at this point, the only questions is “You look really upset, what happened?” I really try to feel the feelings of my child. This shows them that they are entitled to whatever emotion they are having. Young children don’t always recognize their especially powerful emotions, so once we can suss out the emotions being felt, I try to label those feelings for future reference.

Many of these feelings, I, as an adult, don’t have much anymore. Try and imagine the last time you actually cried because someone at work had something for lunch that you wanted and you will see what I mean. It’s important to try and be in touch with these feelings, for their sake.

GATHER MORE INFORMATION

Once the emotions have been appropriately labeled and validated, the children are more likely to be forthcoming with further information. So I listen closely, then restate what I hear “So, your brother put your cereal bowl on his head and wore it like a hat, is that what made you upset?” This is called Sportscasting and a quick Google will give you further examples. I try to be as impartial as I can be. I don’t want to take sides, or lay blame. I try to direct all the dialogue to the other child, “tell your brother, not me.”

HELP THEM FIND A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM

When I was a child, the solutions to conflicts with my brother were easy. There were only two possible solutions:

  1. Run for my life and find my parents
  2. Run for my life and not find parents (be pounded by big brother)

As a parent, I want better (and more) solutions for my own kids, and I want my kids to learn to be the ones to find these solutions.

This requires the largest commitment in this process: Patience. You may feel the urge to quickly drop down some solutions so you can move on. Fight this feeling – remember – you’ve embraced the conflict and here is your reward: you get to hear your kids come up with some ways to fix it – and here’s the beauty – It doesn’t even have to be fair. Nope, you don’t have to look out for the underdog. If they both agree to it- then you’re golden!

Finding a solution may take time in the beginning, depending on the severity of stubbornness of your child (My son is at a nuclear level) and that’s OK. You can suggest ideas after they’ve had time to come up with your own. But eventually, it will be fast: “Take turns.” “Set a timer!” – to referee the length of said turns – and oh the glory of it!

BE PREPARED TO BE A LIFELINE LATER

When are you most likely to get a speeding ticket? 3 blocks from your home. What is the hardest part of your Everest adventure? The way down.

When is it most likely to have a reoccurrence of a conflict? Within 1 minute of solving the problem. So, don’t go screaming “home free” yet. Stay around for a minute –or-2, and consider yourself a resource in this time. This is such an important time, where the solution goes into practice. Try to regale in this victory, and congratulate your kids on their victory in problem solving. Live in the moment, because guess what? The conflict will return. Only in time, you’ll love it (see step 1) and your children will be a bit more prepared for it each and every time.

{The teaching application of conflict resolution via HighScope can be further researched in the book: You Can’t Come To My Birthday Party!I think this is also a great resource for parents.}
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A Birth Story

Of Miracles And Moments – A Birth Story

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A Birth Story

There you are Uma, my first glimpse of you, and of course you’re staring back at me.

Birth

(photo cred for all photos in this post except this one go to Jackie Willome Photography)

I found new love in this moment. I loved you instantly. In this moment, I have a ‘bright light’ moment, similar to what people describe when in a near death experience. You were the end of my tunnel. I wondered about the life you’ll lead. Geez, will you have to face a dustbowl drought, like I read about? Will you have a family of your own one day and experience the euphoria that I’m in? Will you spend years emulating your parents? Will you then spend years embarrassed by the sight of us? Whatever it is, whatever your challenges, your loves, your despair – all of it – you’re alive and it is all worth it. And finally, in this millisecond, I realize the struggle you’ve already made – to beat the odds – to be here with us to share this moment.

THE BIRTH STORY

(Part 1 – in which the birth is not discussed at all … YET)

All birth starts with conception, and yours is unique. No, I will never tell you the story of how your mother and I conceived you (any more than I just did), but go with me here. We had 2 kids- two wonderful kids- 2 kids that woke us up in all hours of the night as babies. 2 kids that we changed diapers for – (and not those “drop-em in a waste bucket and forget what you just saw” disposable diapers – but “shake-it-out and wash it” diapers).

To be honest, we thought another kid would be beyond our capabilities.

We were even using birth control – let’s be honest here – we were using one of THE MOST effective types of birth control on the market – 99.6% effective…apparently. That’s a percentage you sleep easy with, that percentage is why I don’t play the lottery.

See – I told you that you were unique. I guess all of that didn’t matter – not the diapers, not the birth control, not the percentage. What mattered was love – and we had that in abundance.
The day was July 7, 2014, the day we found out about you. Two days earlier, we had just had a dance off karaoke party with friends. I had literally sprained my ankle whilst singing Def Leppard (you will need to Wikipedia this pop-culture reference). Despite the injury, you need to know this about your dad: I rocked on. I sprained my ankle on the first song – and rocked on all the night long – for your mom – for her birthday.

So 2 days later, .04% (the chance of pregnancy) would come down to a Walgreens test, when Alissa had this weird feeling -that she had felt 2 times before. But I thought Alis was impregnable. Point-four percent (.04%) – surely we’re not that .04%. Surely, nobody is actually that .04%. Surely, that number is just representing scientific error and weird anomalies once every decade or so. Surely. Surely- POSITIVE.

I’m not saying I didn’t struggle. This was a process – and don’t worry – you do win my heart. You have that Rocky moment – that Say Anything moment – you do ‘get the girl,’ don’t worry, you get there.

During your gestational period, the kids and I spoke at length – I think Asher thought you were a bad taco that mom ate that was making her stomach ache. We had a very loving, very healthy pregnancy. We sang to you, talked to you and kissed you (as best we could).

THE BIRTH

(Part 2 – the real birth story)

So 9 months had passed. I would say uneventfully, but it wasn’t so uneventful. We loved you already. We had traveled a long way from that .04% – a universe away, as we eagerly awaited your arrival.

The night you were born, Asher had awoken in the night, as he is prone to doing. I comforted him, and ended up falling asleep on his bed. Around midnight Alissa wakes me up in a rush, I see that she is having serious contractions- because she couldn’t talk to me in complete sentences. She quickly shouted some brief commands and rushed off to get a firm grip on something before the next contraction. I knew this was it, the day we had been waiting for. Alissa rushed to the couch and had more contractions, texting our midwife Robin, and friends and doulas, Rachel and Beth.

I wanted, fool heartedly, to add some air to the birthing pool after hearing Alis tell the midwife that she wanted to labor in the tub. I was still in some form of REM sleep as I got out the air compressor (dolphins turn off half their brain and still swim as they sleep, I was in this dolphin state.) Somehow got the tip stuck inside the air hole of the birth tub, when I took off the compressor, the tub deflated to near nothing – it was a crumpled mess of what we needed, of what it was just a moment ago. I looked at Alissa, and she noticed the sad state of affairs in the midst of another contraction, (I still haven’t had the cajones to ask her what she was thinking as she glanced at me and a very well deflated tub.) I immediately problem solved – I grabbed the biggest pair of pliers in the house/ neighborhood/North Central part of town and I yanked it out and fixed my mess up. Who knows how many contractions I missed. DoulaBeth entered and comforted Alissa, then DoulaRachel showed up, and MidwifeRobin arrived shortly thereafter. Alissa asked if she could get in the tub to labor – MidwifeRobin wanted to examine first. I texted our amazing PhotographerJackie and told her that I would contact her soon if MidwifeRobin felt the baby was coming soon.  We had not yet asked Jackie to make her way to us, though we knew she was a good 45 minutes away, we didn’t want her to arrive too early.

Minutes later, MidwifeRobin checks and stops immediately and says “It’s time, the baby’s right here.” Alissa begs for clarification. “The baby is right here, this is her head.” And just then PhotographerJackie (did I say she was amazing?) came through the door, and just started snapping pictures. 6 minutes, 6 beautiful minutes, 6 precious minutes later, you were here and I had that ‘bright light’ moment. You were born in still fully in your amniotic sac. This is called en caul – just like 1 in 80,000 other babies are born. You always loved those long odds.

This is what followed:

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Thank you Uma – thank you for fighting the odds. Thank you for being born. Thank you for completing our family.