Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Grocery Store is the Devil

I hate grocery shopping. There isn't one thing in the entire experience that I enjoy. The conundrum begins when I first walk into the store. Do I go with the large cart and put my 2 year old close to me opting to give up the seat space for bread and other fragile necessities like chips eggs? Or, do I go with the super extended cart with the car attached to the front that has a turning radius of a tractor trailer? I decide that I can't give up the space for the eggs because a trip to the grocery store is like that project where I had to build a container that would keep my egg safe when my 6th grade teacher dropped it off the elementary school roof.

I go loaded with snacks because my two year old has the attention span of a gnat. If I trusted her with the IPad she would be OK for hours in that tiny, cramped, two steering wheeled area. Hopefully we avoid all contact with other carts because I would need the jaws of life to extract her. I find one that still has the straps intact. It's a miracle. How do those get broken anyway? I put her into the car, she beeps the horn a few times, I check our mirrors and pull out. Two minutes in and she is scrambling out of the clown car. Fuck. I just lost my precious cargo area and must put her in the tail-gunner seat!

I begin the shopping in the produce since this is what my kids eat the most. Heidi likes to "help" which means I hand things to her things and she says "Whoa, HEAVY!" and casually tosses them over her shoulder. Some of the time it ends up in the cart but oftentimes it doesn't and I never hand off blueberries for fear of pissing off the grocery stocker. I should probably just ask one of the teenage kids gathering carts outside with their wheelie shoes to follow our path of destruction. Clean up on aisle everywhere!

Because of nap schedules and afternoon activities I usually go around 9 a.m. which is prime time for every old fart in the Chester County area to head to Wegmans for some grapefruit and prune juice. Some old people are cute but most of them at the grocery store have no clue what they are doing even though they buy the same 5 items every week. Grandpa, pick up your bran and clear the aisle! I have a two year old that is losing interest in the cookies I bribed her with and my cart has only just begun to fill. I know I am in trouble when she is fumbling with the belt strap and trying to stand up. She says "Carry me Daddy". So my cart is heavy, it turns like a Mack truck and now she wants me to push it with one arm while carrying her? I consider MacGyvering the belt strap and the gum that I have furiously chewed to no flavor, to mount her to the roof rack of my cart. Instead, I crack open a banana and hope the produce police won't pull me over. I have been known to head to the bulk candy section or rip into a box of teddy grahams just to buy time and I hope my wanted poster isn't hanging up at the service desk anymore.

The cart is loading up. I know that I am not going to be able to fit it back in once it is on the belt and I am not looking forward to that. My cart is overflowing now. It's the world's worst game of Tetris. Everything in my cart is hinging on a head of lettuce somewhere in the bottom; it is load bearing lettuce. I hope it holds up. I head to the checkout with no room to spare and pick an older woman to scan my bazillion items. You can't go with teenagers because they really have no concept of how to bag properly. In five minutes they are headed to the break room to listen to their iPods and eat Hot Cheetos with an Energy drink with some crazy name. You can't trust them to bag like I would. I cringe when they put too many cans and don't double bag it. I dislike it when the eggs don't get separated or when the bread is sandwiched between jars of pasta sauce. Besides, they just don't give you the personal touch that a seasoned pro who has actually shopped at a grocery store would know, that if you don't rubber-band those blueberries they are becoming compote on the bottom of your minivan floor.

The checkout woman asks "Do you have any REUSABLE shopping bags?" and lingers too long on the words reusable. I probably shouldn't have told her that I use the bags to isolate the stinky diapers that I change at home because the little shitmaker in my cart sometimes poops like she is a zoo animal. I recycle lady. I just NEED those plastic bags. I know it is not environmentally friendly but neither are the organic diapers I have to buy from Whole Foods because my daughter is allergic to every other type that we have tried. I look at my cart and think "Crap. I need this much food to keep the kids going for two weeks? What is it going to be like when they are teenagers?" I know I'm screwed unless I teach them about Ramen noodles early. I use coupons. Yes. I use coupons. Checkout Lady tries to tell me that I don't have said item in my cart and I rattle off everything in there. I don't know if it was my uncanny ability to actually know what was in there or because my daughter was hanging off the side of the cart like the pictures tell us what not to do, but she eventually gives it to me.

Now checked out and the cart is too full. Wheelies kid is trailing me out to my car. I tell him thanks and proceed to unload the cart into the Swagger Wagon, starting with the two year old, right through the lift gate like a sack of potatoes. She heads straight for the driver's seat and pushes every button on the console. That might explain why my car was recently set for all Spanish stations. Back of the car is loaded. I head to the front to stow the precious cargo. "Stop it. I do it myself." she says. Please climb into your carseat, Daddy needs to get out of here! "Like this?" She pretends to get in, even though she knows EXACTLY how to get in. Five minutes later, she is in and buckled. She begins to cry. Daddy turns up the radio. I still have to unload and put away. I hate you grocery store. You are the devil.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Cinderella Story

There have been lots of discussion lately about how the princess culture is ruining our daughters and I have to say, I think it is a bunch of malarkey. Don't get me wrong, I want my daughters to be successful, hard working, whatevers and I don't think that dressing up like Belle for twenty minutes out of the day is going to have a lasting effect on their psyche. Princesses are a fantasy and dressing up is fun. Look at Halloween...it's basically a big dress up party. People get to be whatever they want to be and it's no different for kids. Kids are brutally honest and will pretty much dictate to you what they want to play; well, at least my girls do.

I have read about guys who have tried to keep the goods away from their girls and have tried to avoid princess culture as much as possible. I say to that, let it go, players gotta play and little girls gotta play princesses. Let's face reality, if your kids go to school there is no way around it. Princesses are everywhere; they are on backpacks, lunch boxes, purses, and even underwear. I guess that my love for princesses can go as far back as potty training my daughter. She LOVES princesses so any motivation that revolved around that was going to get her attention. Belle, Cinderella, and Aurora helped to put butts in the seats and my daughter was psyched about getting a sticker for #1 and two stickers for #2. I even promised princess underwear when she mastered the potty, which she promptly showed to anyone who would pay attention to her dropping trou to show them off.

Kids talk, a lot, and mainly about things that interest them and princesses are high on my girls' lists. If they want to, they are going to find out all their names, what movies they are in, and what their special talents are whether you want them to or not. The more you resist the princesses, the more they are going to want them. I am not the only blogger out there that is not against princesses, in fact a great mom blogger, Mom101 recently recounts her experience with princess culture at Disney, the mecca of princesses everywhere. There was a great discussion today called "A Princess Problem" on HuffPost Live today with two stay at home dads who argued both sides of the debate.

As a stay at home dad of two girls I have realized that there is just something deep down in a female's DNA that makes them like certain stuff. When it comes to nature versus nurture, you can bet that I was not the one saying "Hey let's all dress up in sparkly costumes and pretend we are having a tea party!" My girls always want to play beauty shop but again, I have no hair. I'm bald, so it is not like they learned it from me. In my opinion, princesses will always be around and I for one am glad that they are because it gives me an opportunity to play something with my daughters that they really love.

Coming from a family with three brothers, I never knew anything about what girls liked to play with. I think that God blessed me with these two little girls for that reason and clearly he wanted me to be more well rounded. I know more about girl stuff than I probably should but in my line of work that comes in handy. When my daughter is not using her manners at the dinner table and proceeds to use her fingers instead of her fork I remind her "Act like a Belle, not like a Beast" You can use the power of the princess to help you too. Both of my girls have played with toys that belonged to my son when he was younger with my two year old daughter more partial to Superman than any other toy we have given her. It just goes to prove that kids like what they like. For more on that subject check out Tom Burns' article Why I Bought Boy' Underwear For My Daughter. Ultimately, it is up to you as a parent to expose them to all kinds of play beyond princesses if you are hung up on preventing them from partaking in all things princess.

Call me crazy but I ENJOY playing princesses with my daughters. They will not be little forever nor will they like princesses forever. Do I think that letting them watch Tangled is going to make them into aloof women that rely on a man to rescue them? Nah. In fact, Disney has made an effort to produce more modern princesses like in Brave and Tangled that are much more than beauty and the ability to talk to woodland animals. I have read Cinderella Ate My Daughter and while Orenstein makes interesting points about Princess culture having an influence on girls, I have to say that so did Sex in the City on 20 and 30 somethings alike and not in a good way.

I believe that kids imitate what they see so I can look back to how my wife interacted as a young girl as a source of inspiration. My wife wasn't the typical teenage girl. She didn't go to the mall and hang out all day like many do today. In fact, she still has no desire to engage in this sort of activity. This may or may not could have something to do with the fact that she didn't have cable and only watched PBS growing up but the jury is still out on that.

So I say what is the big deal? I say everyone just calm down and let kids be kids. If my son dressed up like Bob the Builder does that mean he will whistle and cat call at girls in the street when he is older? Why do we as adults try to ram some ideology about what professions are "ideal" when they are so young? If we believe that our daughters dressing up only like princesses early in life is going to lead to them making poor decisions later in life, based on some Cinderella story premise, then I probably shouldn't let my son pretend to be Batman. He might become a vigilante and a billionaire vigilante playboy at that! The horror!

Girls are always going to like dress up. They like it when they are two and five, they will like it at their 8th grade dances, at their proms, going out with their girlfriends, and (ARRGH!) boyfriends, and they will of course enjoy it at their (GULP!) weddings. I taught in a high school for almost ten years. We used to do a project that was about self worth that was based on self portraits. The students were required to bring in a picture of themselves as a child. I can tell you from experience that lots of those sweet little girls went from princesses to Victoria's Secret Pink wearing, inappropriate clothes for your age, young women. Lots of them did not. Many of them went the complete other way and are highly successful in what they are doing now. I think it is hardly fair to blame the princesses. It's a parent's influence that matters most.

Girls have it rough. They have to deal with boys that basically never grow up and are clueless about their feelings. Girls are rushed to grow up too quickly, they mature faster than boys, and it is a lot of pressure on them to uphold ideals of beauty when all they really need to hear is that they are beautiful the way they are. The princess debate will wage on and there will always be much speculation but I fail to believe that something this important in their lives at five years of age will have such a negative impact on their lives. Can you remember much from when you were five? I sure can't. So, this guy is not buying into princesses being the root of evil in our daughter's lives.

I think my princesses are beautiful the way they are whether they want to play Legos, He-Man, or Disney Princesses. I look forward to having breakfast with the princesses at Disney in February. I look forward to their faces when they get to meet the "real" girls from their stories that they know so well. I am going to enjoy my two beautiful daughters dressing up in pink, sparkly costumes. I am going to revel in the afternoon tea parties with our stuffed animal friends and I am going to continue to enjoy the glitter I find in the dryer lint screen for as long as I can.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Did I fail my boy by not teaching him baseball?

This past weekend my wife registered my son for little league baseball. When I was a kid I had great fun playing little league. My coaches were all pretty cool, I played with my friends from school, and after the game, win or lose, the coach would buy us a pop at the concession stand. If we won, he would buy us some ice cream. On rare occasions, I even would get a game ball or make some spectacular catch that I didn't know I had in me. My older brothers played in the league and I wanted to live up to their legacy.

In one instance I made a spectacular play at third by keeping the runners from advancing by using my head, literally. I took a line drive off the bag directly into my face. My glasses shattered because I had the kind of specs that Harry Caray would wear and had the frame of mind to pick up the ball acting like Velma and stepping on the bag for the force out to end the inning. Then, there was the feeling of all feelings, my first home run off of my friend Young Jip Kim. I crushed it and hit it into the tennis courts which were just beyond the diamond behind my junior high school. Those tennis courts seemed pretty far when I was a kid although they probably aren't if I were to go back now but that fastball from him looked like a watermelon to me, and I jumped on it.

A neighbor girl up the street, Tammy, grew up in a family where he grandfather had connections with the White Sox. Being from the south side, I grew up with players like Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk, Richard Dotson and others. Tammy's grandpa would get us team baseball cards and we would sit by the street with her Snoopy Sno Cone machine and sell sno cones complete with a White Sox card for every sale. On the way home I would put the spare cards in my spokes and ride my bike home.

On summer nights in our south suburb of Chicago, my friends and I from the neighborhood would play running bases and play catch in the street, throwing pop flies to each other as high as we could while trying to catch them and avoid the cars parked in the street. Cars would routinely cut through our subdivision and we would yell "game off" or "carrr!" only to reassemble back in the street for round after round until we couldn't see the ball anymore.

All of these great memories came from baseball. So why is it that my son is seven and has only played one year of T-ball? I guess in part it is the way that sports are now. Things are so much more heightened than I feel they used to be. People would say to me "If you don't start your kids off when they are 5, forget about it, they will never catch up." We've tried so many things with my son. Karate, T-Ball, Basketball,Tennis, Swimming and even had him in a Sports Sampler program at our Y. We thought maybe that somewhere in there, he would find something that really interests him.

I talk about the White Sox quite a bit but not living in the state makes it hard to follow our team and I'll be damned if I will let him watch the Cubs on WGN, the Chicago station that we do get because technically, that's not really good baseball in my estimation. Well, if the last 105 years have taught us anything it isn't so how could I teach him the game from that? The best part of watching the Cubs when I was in Chicago was listening to what would come out of Haray Caray's mouth next. I guess that I will be forced to watch Phillies games. Ugh.

It's funny how quickly he went from that little boy barely hitting it off the tee in his over-sized orange T-Shirt that was down to his knees to this big kid that I am going to have to buy a cup for. On Sunday, I attended a clinic on drills that coaches can run with their kids. They kept stressing that the skills done in practice were not any different than what they do in the majors. The guy running the clinic has a five year old and was talking about teaching him how to catch properly. He said "My son and I will sometimes do this for two hours" Two hours? A five year old? Did this guy superglue his kid to a bucket because my kids can't sit and do anything for two hours unless it has something to do with Wii or Legos.

After listening to these coaches talk about drills and hearing that in the eight year old coach-pitch league that the coaches try to strike out the kids instead of lobbing it in nice and easy, I wish that I had signed him up for last year's experience. I guess that I worry that he is going to fail and then never want to play again. I know that kids are resilient but am I nuts to worry?

We have played whiffle ball in the yard and he has hit off the tee so that I can teach him how to run bases. Baseball is a great game to learn but when I started going through all the rules with him I thought, CRAP, am I a failure as a man for not teaching him all this stuff? This is America's pastime, so why haven't I passed this on to my only son? The best way to learn, I have found, is by doing.

So, the question is, as a parent, do you just decide for the kid that he/she is doing this activity or do you wait for them to tell you? My wife and I didn't want to be "those parents" who push everything and anything on their kids and scream and yell from the sidelines when they didn't do so well. As a former coach I have dealt with quite a few parents making the kid's experience in the game not fun. That is what we are trying to teach them right - that sports should be fun? Major leaguers talk so much about how fortunate they are to play a game they love. So how do you build confidence in your kid so that they can do well?

I guess the hardest part of getting kids involved in sports is learning how to pull back and letting them figure it out for themselves. I am sure someone taught me how to throw and catch. I don't remember anything specific about when or who that was probably because it was all part of the experience. I even vaguely remember my older brothers throwing pop flies so high I would lose them in the sun and they would sometimes hit me in the forehead. Oh wait, a minute...was that part of the practice? That explains a lot! So, I guess I will sit him down on a bucket and teach him to play catch like a pro and avoid those pop flies...for now.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Who's your Daddy Blogger?

I have been writing on my blog for four years now since semi-retiring from teaching in order to be a stay at home dad. It's been fun writing about all the funny things my kids say and the crazy stuff they come up with. At the very least, I will have a record of our crazy adventures with them as they grow up and be able to look back and laugh about all the things they used to say and do.

Last night, Al Watts, President of the National Stay At Home Dad Network offered me a ticket to The Dad 2.0 Summit. After attending the At Home Dad Convention this past October I was interested in the Summit but knew due to recent budget cuts that if I wanted to attend next year's convention that it was not to be.

I casually mentioned to my wife that this were the case in which she replied "Well, when you become a "real" dad blogger then we can have that conversation." Ouch. I asked what that was supposed to mean and she told me "Real dad bloggers post everyday". Double ouch. I mean, I am taking care of the kids all day so...yeah, I suppose this blogging thing isn't my full time job but it is definitely something that I take pride in because it is wholly MINE.

So, I asked The Dad Bloggers from Facebook on what constitutes a "real" dad blogger. I have to say, having this group was very helpful because they reaffirmed what my blog has meant to me. All write about topics that today's fathers face. Some use it as a way to brand themselves and others use it purely as an outlet for writing down their trials and tribulations, triumphs and failures, and all that funny poop along the way. Some do both and still others see it more as a hobby. The biggest question in the end is, are you making a contribution that is worthwhile and interesting?

What I found is that your blog is whatever the hell you want it to be. When I taught high school art for 10 years I loved having that creative freedom. If I could think of it, I did it. There was no better feeling as a teacher of art to come up with an idea purely from my imagination and figure out a way to teach it; to be able to pass it on to my students and watch them create.

In reality, all along, my blog has been that, a means to express myself. My blog exists so that I might pass my experiences with a certain situations on to other parents. It is meant to entertain and hopefully to educate. Along the way I hope to get laughs, reactions, and maybe help someone out there that is wondering if they are the only ones who has had pee from their newborn baby boy shoot directly into their mouth when changing a diaper. A word from the wise, if you are changing a diaper, keep your mouth closed. From the feedback I have gotten from the people who do follow me, I have been successful because they enjoy what I write and that is all that matters.

In the end, it is not a numbers game for me. Would it be nice to have more than 23 followers? Of course. I want as many people as I can to read my blog. If we look at Babble's Top Fifty Dad Bloggers of 2012 there are lots of guys on there that don't post everyday. Posting everyday doesn't define you as a real dad blogger. I don't know how they could. Lots of the dad bloggers said that a a worthwhile blog isn't about quantity but that it was much more about quality.

So brace yourself for my revelation. My wife was wrong. In the end, all of these dads pour their hearts into their work. Sure, some of them are crazy bastards but being a dad means this is part of the territory and for dads, making the world aware that we are actively participating in our kid's lives must be known and we all have lots to say. I may not be anywhere near the Top 50 Dad Bloggers of 2012, but it is something to shoot for and I am not going anywhere. I am a dad blogger because I am good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Nutcracker Sweet!

My family was rooted in tradition when I was a kid. We had a big family Christmas and everyone was there. We packed ourselves in rooms together and gave up our bedrooms for the grandparents. It was a good old fashioned family Christmas.

Every Christmas as long as I can remember our entire family would attend The Nutcracker Ballet together. We would get dressed up and head with my dad and his three brothers and their families to watch some Christmas magic. It was of course in downtown Chicago which, if you haven't been there around Christmas, you should see it just once.

As I kid, I really didn't enjoy this. I had to wear dress pants and probably some God awful itchy sweater that my Mom loved. However, what I did like was that we went as a big group to somewhere special that was our time together.

We haven't done this in forever. With most of us grown up and with families of our own the logistics in themselves are mind boggling. We can barely get together for Christmas anymore and my family lives in entirely another state as do some of the uncles and aunts. I wish we could have some of the magic back.

I barely remember getting specific presents when I was a kid and not one thing really sticks out in my mind. Why then, do I remember this the most out of all the Christmas memories? Oh yeah, because it was what my dad did after the ballet that made it memorable.

It must have been around the time that stereo systems first came out with CD players because my Dad was all about the Dolby Surround Sound. We all came home and he was in the spirit of the ballet and popped in his copy of the Nutcracker Suite.

He disappeared for a few moments only to reappear in the hallway dressed in long underwear; twirling and spinning to his heart's content. I never laughed so hard in my life and still chuckle just thinking about it. I am literally LOLing right now.

What I have taken away from this spectacle (and it was a sight to behold)is that as a dad, you have to take advantage of times where you will make a fool of yourself for the benefit of your kids. Someone in my scouting pack said when asked if they got roped into doing a certain event responded that they "get to" do these things with their kids.

Growing up with three brothers, I didn't have a lot of exposure to girly stuff so I am glad that I "get to" have tea parties with my daughters and dress up with them. Today, we had a princess party and my five year old told me I couldn't come unless I was dressed like a princess. I think that I sufficiently fulfilled those requirements, don't you think? As always, it is all for my kids benefit. I am awesome of making a fool of myself for their benefit and I am sure a lot of you other dads are as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The things your kid will learn on the bus : Pianist

I have become "The Dad" on the bus. My son tells me that the 4th grade girls refer to me in this way when I pick him up and drop him off at the bus. He also told me that they were giggling about the word "PIANIST" which sounds remarkably close to "PENIS" in their estimation. It's funny. Heck, it's even Adam Sandler funny, but apparently they were getting up their nerve to yell out "PENIS!" at me through the window of the bus at drop off to see what I would say. If I called them on it they were prepared to say "I was just saying "PIANIST". LOVE what my son is learning on the bus these days. Thankfully he sits towards the front. We all know about those kids in the back of the bus.Oh those youts, they sure can be a handful.