Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The School Portrait Conundrum

I just returned from my daughter's pre-school which recently had their school portraits done. Yikes. The school picture business is pretty cutthroat.

The way this company makes money is that they print 12 pages of various poses, three per child, and then you get the task of picking out what you want and don't want. On their website pricing is vague. You are supposed to contact the representative for pricing. However, I can give you some insight as to what this might cost. One sheet of 8 wallet size photos is $17. Two sheets are $33 and three sheets are $53. If you just can't choose per sheet a package is available for all sheets for the low, low price of $230!

Your kids are precious but can you really drop over two hundred dollars for portraits of your kid from preschool? Some parents around me were agonizing because they couldn't decide. One even said she was looking through the proofs for an hour! Parents around me were shelling out hundreds while I quietly slipped away with a sheet of wallets. Your kids are adorable no doubt, so how do you decide? They intentionally make it hard to decide with the three poses but as a parent AND photographer I can help you make an easier decision. Do it yourself. Here is how:

A general rule in photography when you are enlarging something is that if it was shot in a smaller format you are limited on what size you can go up to. If you are printing from a negative (no one does this anymore unless you are in school for photography) which is small, enlarging something to a bigger size is going to lose some of your resolution hence, a photograph may look grainy or blurry.

Have you ever tried to take a digital image from your point and shoot digital camera and have it printed larger? Your images probably became blurry or pixelated unless you are shooting your images at a very high resolution. This is usually where megapixels come into play and why when choosing a camera you should be aware of what your maximum resolution is going to be and what you set your camera to record. Shoot your kids in your highest possible resolution especially if you are going to be enlarging the image.

Use good lighting. The word photography actually means "Light writing" so choose lighting that will compliment your subject. Make sure your kids aren't squinting into the sun. The best time of day to shoot outside is just as the sun is rising in the morning or as the sun is making its descent in the afternoon. The quality of light during these times is a little softer than directly overhead. I like to make my kids smile naturally by saying something funny right before I snap the photo. Kids have a tendency to look off camera so tell them exactly where you want them to look while taking the picture. You can put a sticker on the front of your camera for them to focus on.

If photography isn't your thing and you are forced to purchase from a company then follow these guidelines. When choosing from multiple poses if there is anything you don't like about the photo, eliminate it altogether. You can crop badly composed images but if the smile doesn't look right or the positioning of a hand is weird it will always be weird and if it bothers you now, it will probably always bother you so don't settle. Have an idea of format size in your mind before you purchase. Some people like to buy 11 X 14 and hang it going down their stairs. Some like to buy wallets for the relatives. Know what sizes you will need before you commit.

If this idea is not for you and you would like to hire a photographer yourself I happen to know a few that do outstanding work. See the list below. All are photographers that I know personally and they will not disappoint. If you know any great photographers in YOUR area please leave a comment and/or link.

RCG Photography in Geneva, IL,
Heather Demmons Photography in Chandler, AZ
TJM Photography in Rochester, NY

Friday, October 19, 2012

Communication Breakdown

While at the National At Home Dad Convention a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Rene Hackney. She owns and teaches at Parenting Playgroups in Alexandria, VA. She specifically addressed how to manage power struggles and how to help your kids listen better.

She was a great speaker and one that I took lots of lessons home about how you communicate effectively with your kids. My youngest,Heidi, at 22 months is testing these very boundaries everyday. My older kids, Sarah and Adam, at five and seven years old respectively have gotten away from the timeouts so now I have become rusty.

What have a learned over the years? I have learned that you have to act on what you say. Don't give your kids multiple chances. Give them a warning and if they don't follow through then give them a timeout. Heidi is slowly learning that the timeout is not fun but only when I consistently follow through with the warning and immediate punishment.

Dr. Hackney taught me one very important lesson. If you are constantly repeating yourself, YOU are teaching your kids NOT to listen. By repeating yourself you are teaching your kids that even if you give them a warning you are going to say it four or five more times before you really flip out.

She explained that our voices must be assertive and not passive or aggressive. An example of someone with passive voice is someone that begs, pleads or even bribes for good behavior. I have heard people in stores say things like "If you put your shoes on Daddy will buy you a Lego set"

Passive voices often ignore conflict and can ask irrelevant questions like "Why did you take your shoes off?" I do this all the time and can attest that it is a waste of time. Kids aren't going to We also need to avoid the aggressive voice which focuses on the negatives toward the child.

Aggressive voices often use "You" statements or use "always" and "never" to describe the child. For example, if a parent says "You never put your shoes on" you are focusing on making the child feel bad and not focusing on the fact that they are not following your directions.

Of course, there is also the passive-agressive flip which is a common pattern. You may try a very soft approach and when it doesn't work you go into beast mode. To combat this Dr. Rene suggested how to become assertive without being aggressive.

1) Use straightforward statements
It is time now to put on your shoes please
2) Do not repeat
You can still give warnings but must be consistent with time
3) Follow through (respectfully) the first time
4) Give choices only when they really exist
5) Give usable information
6) Own and express your feelings.
It is good for kids to know how their behavior is affecting you

I highly suggest that you visit her website if you are interested in learning more. Visit Dr. Rene Hackney's teachings at
You can also find some of her informative videos on YouTube HERE

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TV is good for you?

Some people think that TV is all bad but after witnessing my own son memorize 26 names of some pretty hard to pronounce dinosaur names I am a believer. See the video here.

The cartoons I had as a kid were Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny and Wile. E. Coyote. In both cases they were constantly chasing one another and devising different ways they could drop an anvil on each other's heads.

Cartoons have definitely changed. Most kids shows now have pauses in between questions that they pose to the viewers. My son, who is now seven, takes these opportunities now to direct Dora to her demise often telling her to head down the wrong path directly to the crocodiles.

But, can cartoons be helpful? They were to my son, who learned his song via The Dinosaur Train when his teacher used it as a visual aid to learn dinosaur names. Check out the real video here.

Of course I am not saying plop your kid in front of a TV all day. Everything in moderation. Kids need healthy meals, excercise, plenty of sleep, stimulating games and puzzles and reading, reading, and more reading.

But, in defense of today's TV most of it is educational save for Spongebob Squarepants whom my kids find annoying thank goodness. However, there are awesome shows like Team Umi Zoomi which teaches math, Octonauts which is science based and even Dora which teaches basic problem solving and the three step method. I can't say that I haven't used Dora's three step method to explain what we are doing for the afternoon I just wish she would stop asking my kids to say everything louder.

Monday, October 15, 2012

You're not as old as you thought you were

Prepare to go back in time. Well, maybe just a little bit. No, we don't need a Delorean to travel back. Take your current age and subtract two years. That is how old you really are.

Things don't start counting until you are two. My daughter, who is close to 22 months can communicate fairly reasonably and she has been walking since she was 9 months old yet she is not allowed on the "big kid" side at my local YMCA.

In fact, the little security key tags that I have for all the other kids they don't even bother with until the child is two. I assume that this means that she doesn't really exist when I take her there almost every single day. Maybe I should be getting a discount on my membership. I guess that they believe that all babies must look the same. I find that interesting because they hassle me for my card every time I pass by like the President is working out upstairs.

Some things don't count when you are under two. Rides don't count and most admission to museums or other such places set the bar at two. I find it humorous however that in two months museums will be charging her full price because technically she becomes a "child" or human being at this age.

I am not knocking not paying 10 dollars per kid at the American Helicopter Museum's Rotorfest this past weekend. Ten dollars? This wasn't exactly Chicago's Air and Water Show. I did however, shell out five dollars for "Date with the Tramp" which was a harness trampoline romp for kids over two. Clearly, the greatest name for a trampoline business you could ever have. So if you were feeling a little blue because of your age, if you recently passed a milestone, just take a few years off and celebrate your real age because technically, you didn't exist until you were two.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

You're Mine....ALL MINE!

While at the convention, I attended a breakout session for those dads who had infants or toddlers. All of us had lots of questions but one in particular came up. A dad asked "How do you get your kids to pay attention to Mommy once in awhile?" While mom is at work and dad is staying at home, clearly the roles are reversed in who is the go-to person for boo-boos and consoling. I wouldn't say that I am particularly tender and I don't fawn all over my kids when they get hurt but when they are upset I do everything I can to console them. "Rub some dirt on it!" my dad would say. Just kidding. We put Band-Aids on for every and every ailment; from paper cuts to bruises, bandages have wonderful healing power.

While this is happening you are creating a bond that kids emotionally will attach to you. My daughter, who is 21 months currently is the worst offender of this. She constantly wants to be held, by me. She doesn't want anyone else to put her to bed. She wants me to hold her when I am sauteing vegetables. She wants me to hold her when her brother and sister are around. Essentially she is claiming me as her own like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.

There is no doubt that within this dynamic there can be feelings of jealously between you and your spouse. Not getting attention from your kids is a terrible feeling. We know this because we see how our own kids can be when they don't get attention. That doesn't mean you should stamp your feet and stick out your bottom lip and demand a cuddle but it does mean that you will have to be patient.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that eventually. EVENTUALLY. It will all change. Just when you thought they would never roll over, they did it. Just when you thought they would never sleep through the night, they did it. Just when you thought that they would never poop in a bucket, they did it!

My wife and I try to make sure that there are special times that only mommy gets with each child. It may mean baking cookies together or going shopping for girl stuff or even going on a walk alone but make it a point to spend solo time on mini-dates with your kids. Your kids love you and cherish you. Just give them time and attention and I promise it will turn around.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We Are Not Alone Dads!

If you are a stay at home dad and you think you are alone, you are not and I can tell you how to get connected to other dads in your area. This past weekend I attended the National At Home Dad Convention in Washington, DC. This experience was one that I will never forget. As a SAHD myself, I have often felt isolated and alone because in my area, women are the majority of primary caregivers. Being around all these women all the time can be difficult because as a man we are often missing out in quality guy time with another dad.

The At Home Dad Network changed all of this. I found it quite by accident doing a search on stay at home dad blogs. When I came upon the fact that they offered an actual convention that supports, educates, advocates, and provides a community for stay at home dads I was blown away. I was so excited in fact that I ran into the living room yelling to my wife "They have a convention for people like me...Dads that stay at home!" I immediately knew that I wanted to attend and while I am logistically challenged, somehow I made it so with my wife's help of course. She agreed to take on the responsibilities at home, called in a grandma for assistance, and put her own work on hold (at least for a few days).

I was driving there from Philly, ALONE. I could blast my stereo and no one was adjusting the volume. I could stop when I wanted to and take as many rest stop breaks as I deemed necessary. I may be huge but I have the bladder of a small child. I drove to DC, checked into the hotel and was amped to meet up with the other dads. Immediately, I knew that this is where I belonged. Each and every guy there was easy to talk to and I am sure they, like me were excited to have some conversation with other guys that didn't include discussion about Legos, Barbies, diapers, or bottles for a change.

The convention was hosted by DC Metro Dads who put together an awesome four days of activities around their home city. Not only did I get to see all that Washington DC had to offer but I spent an entire day attending discussions and listening to speakers who helped me become a better father. I even had an opportunity for a service project so that I could volunteer my time to help out local families at the DC Food Bank.

The speakers brought about "aha! moments" where I could relate to my own experiences and in the future apply what I learned so that I can communicate better with my children. I also had to opportunity to get to know lots of other dads from all over the country and even help them out with my experience. The convention is an unparalleled resource for us stay at home dads and it shouldn't be missed.

If you missed this year join us next year September 28th, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. You can find more information about the National Stay At Home Dad Network on their Facebook page or at the At Home Dad Network website

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Proud to be a member!


Remember that Seinfeld where Jerry swears in front of an impressionable youth and his mother calls to inform him of all the swearing he has been doing because he looks up to him? My kids have given me plenty of opportunities where I have wanted to ask them "Seriously? WTF?

If you think back to the Seinfeld episode, Jerry has the kid over and explains to him that swearing is just not a good habit to form and that comics that do it are considered hacks. The kid proceeds to destroy his tape when he has his back turned and he berates the kid saying "WTF are you doing? You little..."

The 21 month old is entering her Terrific Twos earlier than scheduled and if I had any hair I would be ripping it out as we speak. She just finds ways to challenge me that are unlike any of the other kids. Now that she can at will climb out of her crib I am convinced that she is accessing the DVR and recording re-runs of wrestling matches that feature Ric Flair. She bites, she scrapes, she hits, she punches. Where in the hell is she getting this stuff?

Our other kids may have done this once or twice but after going in time out for these offenses, they stopped cold turkey. She just doesn't seem to be phased by this time out thing and my feeble attempt to place her in the pack in play is met with her just climbing out of it when I leave the room. She still doesn't like the fact that I put her in there so I am sticking with it.

Still, I have to watch what I am saying around these kids. I have slipped a few times and not in the Christmas Story sort of way where it comes out as "Fudge" but it has been close. The times that I have slipped I just hope and pray that it went in one ear and out the other. My favorite go to "swear" will always be "Heidi, you are so....silly." I call at lot of things silly these days. Freakin' silly.