Wednesday, December 18, 2013

While You Live, Shine

I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. Sometimes, I just don't get any respect. Such is the life of a stay at home dad. We have to learn how to shine.

I have met plenty of moms who think that me staying at home is such a great thing. Because let's face it, it shouldn't matter what my gender is, the job is the same. Maybe the way I approach handling the kids is just different and that is what intimidates other parents.

I am not here to judge you or teach you how to do parenting the right way. Maybe I am just being sensitive but I felt the need to write this post after an encounter this morning with the mom of one of my daughter's friends.

My daughter has been talking about this friend of hers in kindergarten for some time so I contacted her mom through the class email list. After much back and forth about where, when, what time etc., we made the playdate, this particular girl's first ever, and I dropped her off at their house.

Knowing full well after five years of staying at home, that there is a playdate etiquette for guys that should be followed, I talked to the mom before making my exit. We talked about what she did, about her maternity leave, and what her husband did, and how long they have lived in the area.  I got to know her a little before I left my child with her and soon she redirected the questions back at me.

"Soooo, what do you do?" she asked. "I am a stay at home dad." And that's when she started laughing.

Yes. Laughing. I felt a little ashamed though I never have before. People act surprised or shocked but I have never been laughed at. Laughing at someone when they are telling you something serious or important to them laughter is not the ideal response.

I tried to let it roll off my back and kept talking, adding that I was a blogger...more laughter. Then quickly added that "I am a part of the National At Home Dad Network and that we have a convention every year." This also did not go well.

"Are you serious?" she asked.  "Yes, it has been pretty awesome for me. So much so that I started my own Philly Dads Group. Maybe your husband would be interested?" and I handed over my card.

She stood there, a little stunned I believe, and managed to say "That's what my husband wishes he could do. He is stuck with his family business and would rather stay at home. In fact, I wish he would too"

I am not sure if she was trying to save face but she added "Looks like there is a whole other world that I just don't know about" Sure. That's it. Although, you would have to be living under a rock to not hear about how roles of caregivers has changed in the last ten years. Changing people's minds doesn't happen overnight and at the very least hopefully I opened up her eyes to how seriously some dads embrace this role for their families.

I headed to the activity I had planned with my dad's group. Not feeling all that great about what I had just experienced but looked forward to being with my fellow stay at home dads. I was determined not to focus on one sour note.

I met two other stay at home dads there and told the owner that we were Philly Dads Group. "Like the Main Line Mommies?" he said. "What do you guys talk about, parenting and stuff?" I said "Yeah, and we throw in fringe conversations about beer and football if there is time." I find most often that I am just planting the mustard seed hoping something will grow from it.

It is a little sad to think that if I would have said "football club" or "beer club" there probably wouldn't be a question of why this group was in existence. I have to remind myself that I am doing good and that I am not doing it for anyone else. Some people just get it. This is not a joke to me, this is my life.

Song of Seikilos

When I returned from the activity I received an email from my dad telling me about something he learned from a music class called the Epitaph of Seikilos taken from the first century. This song represents our earliest record of a full composition and what was inscribed on a tombstone between 200 BC and 100 AD.  Roughly translated it  means:

"While you live, shine. Let nothing trouble you. Life is only too short, and time takes its toll"

Amazing the way the universe works, that I would be feeling challenged by those who might bring me down only to be lifted back up by my own parent. We cannot be mired by the doubters who seek to bring us down. Instead, it is us that must change skewed perceptions back to reality and make others see the light. I know what I am doing with the time I have, and I aim to make a difference in this world. Maybe with help, they will see me shine.

I wouldn't be human if I didn't want people to think highly of me. As a stay at home parent there are no accolades; no one is taking you out to a fancy dinner to thank you for your work on a project. There is no pin for years of service.

Our acceptance comes from our own family mostly. the disbelief in us staying at home is similar to when people learned I was an art teacher. "You don't LOOK like an art teacher" they would say. I was a phenomenal art teacher and someday may be again. Conducting the kids is my job now.

Stay at home dads are looking to blow the doors off perception that men have to be pigeonholed into traditional roles. I assume that professions where males are not "typically" seen as the majority like in nursing, these professionals have faced similar struggles. Do we call every male nurse we meet Gaylord Focker? No, but people still refer to stay at home dads as Mr. Mom.

My time with my kids has been my composition in progress. I have, with my wife's help, shaped my kids into the people they will be one note at a time. In every job I have held I have sought to make a difference in the lives of children.  Staying at home is my opus and I hope more people will just give it a listen. While I live, I will shine.

Melody sung in a Koine Greek approximate pronunciation, sung in modern popular vocal style.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Power of Etiquette

My wife's family is pretty formal. They dress up for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner at home. In fact, if you are in an outfit for most of Christmas and dinnertime rolls around, you better have a second outfit lined up for later. My family was always more casual. We woke up on Christmas and rushed downstairs and spent most of the day in pajamas.

My in-laws tradition is getting up, getting dressed, and taking care of breakfast before presents even happen.  Of course, it is hard to contain the children's excitement so we allow the early morning opening of the stockings to tide them over but shifting to the way things are done in another family can take time.

This was an adjustment for me and despite my kicking and screaming, as they have been trying to break me of my uncouthness, I have given in.  While my family's way was considered how we did something, my wife's family's traditions are more about how they conduct business.

There is a schedule on the fridge for holidays spent together. Heck, there was even a spreadsheet breaking down where we needed to be during our wedding weekend. Let me get this straight though, I am not complaining. In fact, this sort of structure has kept things from miserably failing.

One of the greatest gifts we have received from them as a wedding present is Emily Post's Guide to Etiquette and Manners. It is pretty amazing to read about the proper way to do things and if there is one book that we abide by that sits on a shelf of classic books, it is this one.

Teaching our kids how to properly address a letter to someone is an art form that is being dropped with the use of email and these informal avenues of communication. You know what I can't stand? I hate when people close a letter with Best,

Best what? Best wishes? Best Buy? I don't understand best. Whatever happened to Sincerely? Now that seems truly sincere! Cheers and Ciao? No. I hate them. Cheers just makes me want to drink and Ciao makes me want to make a sandwich.

Teaching our kids manners has naturally been part of how we have raised them. We started early with Please and Thank you and when time outs occur, we speak to our kids about it being unacceptable behavior. How do I know that is is working? I heard my two year old tell my six year old that something was "Un-sept-able" while they were playing.

Properly setting the table is another skill we have tried to pass on. One of our six year old daughter's responsibilities for earning rewards is setting the table for dinner. And while she sometimes gets the positions of the forks and knives reversed, she is learning early how to do it the right way.

I wish I had paid more attention to that when I was younger. I grew up with three brothers and while I am sure there was silverware, I don't remember it so much because I was guarding my plate with my arms. My point is, it is never too early to show them how it is done because it will serve them better in the future.

I still have trouble calling my parent's friends anything other than Mr. or Mrs. Last Name and I know that for some people having kids call them Mr. Chris is perfectly fine but I don't like it. Some of our friends say that it makes them feel old but I think it is necessary. If anything, they are learning what their last names are as I did with all of our neighbors when I was a kid. Ask my kid who their neighbors are and they will tell you Mr. White, not Mr. Walter.

We have seen the payoff with teacher's conferences saying "Your son is just so polite" or "He really seeks out the best in everyone" I can see it in the way my younger daughters love to hold the door open for others. Just the simple "Thank You" from a child can make all the difference, especially when you hear it from them directly and not because their parents are telling them to do so.

In the age of everything digital, even e-vites, isn't it just nice to get a handwritten note from someone expressing how appreciative they are that you thought of them? My grandmother used to love to get stationary every year and even until she was in her 90's she still would hand write letters to family members about everything on her mind.

You can be sure that after Christmas, our children's thank you notes will be flowing. My wife often has hers done before Christmas dinner is even on the table, a race my relatives admire to see once they race home, whose thank you notes will arrive first.

Most parents teach their kids manners but is etiquette that important any more? It all starts with modelling the behavior we want to pass along to our children.  What are you passing on to your children and how has that affected how they are growing up?

Why are we so lax with the formalities when we are teaching them how to be the best person they can be in this world? We should be trying to elevate our children into the future by teaching them the best of the past. Maybe I should start addressing my thank you note envelopes now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Philly Dads Group to Attend Winter Festival

If there is one thing that I would love to impart to my children about the holidays it is that we need to think about those that are less fortunate than us when it comes to all we have.That is why we like to give back, why we take part in the Angel Tree at our church, and impart to our kids that volunteering and charity work can be very rewarding especially when you get involved in your own community.

That's why my family and the Philly Dads Group will be attending The Winter Festival at the Kimberton Fairgrounds in Phoenixville this weekend.

This coming Saturday, December 14th from 10am to 4pm, the Philly Dads Group will have an opportunity to take part in a unique event called the Winter Festival benefitting Toys For Tots. Admission is FREE with the donation of a new/unwrapped toy to donate.

Image courtesy of Winter Festival
Each donation not only earns you admission but qualifies you for a raffle ticket for the drawing of an iPad Mini.  In addition,  each $20 you spend at one of the vendors at the event also qualifies you for another ticket! Check out the great list of local businesses who not only have contributed to the cause but will be selling their wares at this event.

Part of the cool thing about having a blog this past year has been the opportunities to connect with different brands and review their products. It has been my plan this year to put aside some of the extra toys I have received and to give them to Toys for Tots at this event.  There is nothing better than bringing joy to children during the holidays and we hope our contribution does just that.

Things to do at this event include a Star Wars character Meet and Greet provided by The Garrison Carida: 501st Legion, Star Wars In Character Podcast,  and Rebel Legion Echo Base. You can even participate in Blast-A-Trooper and shoot darts at Stormtrooper! Maybe even Darth Vader will show up, if he has the guts to face your Rebel fighter, that is.

Photo by Weld Photography

You can get a complimentary chair massage, get a balloon creation for the kids, have some brick oven pizza provided by Pizza Wagon, or do some Christmas shopping. You can visit the Event Info site to learn more.

What is even better is that the organizers of the Winter Festival have let Philly Dads Group be a sponsor of this event and have even given us a table to spread the word about our group! Please come and look for us at our table and take a flyer or business card to pass on to a great dad you know in the Philadelphia area who would like to participate in our group.

Head to our Meetup page for the event and RSVP to hang with us. Bring a new/unwrapped toy to donate and become a part of something special for the holidays with your family and ours.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dads, Kids, and Bugs...Oh MY!

If there is something that kids love, it is creepy crawly BUGS! My wife doesn't agree as I am the house designated squisher of all things with more than four legs.

Recently, along with another Dad Blogger, Jeff Bogle of Out With the Kids, we launched The Philly Dads Group. It is a social group for dads in the Philly Metro area who want to get together with other dads and families and engage in social activities together.

We had an event hosted by Monkey Fish Toys, a cool indie toy store in Exton, PA.  We had pizza, kids drinks, snacks, and of course bugs! When there are kids and food there are usually bugs.  These bugs weren't the usual kind though, they were the amazing HexBugs Nano V2 series and #theycanclimb!

The sets for these HexBugs come with a variety of configurations that allow kids to construct intricate "habitats" that the bugs can explore.  Think of gerbil habitats with tunnels connecting to one another and that is basically the gist. Only these bugs are not limited by just horizontally running around like little robotic cockroaches. These bugs can climb!

This is a toy that is limited only by one's imagination. In the kids that I observed, they spent most of the time building and putting these bugs to the test. Many times their structures were built and modified thus giving our little engineers some lessons in structural integrity.

I was amazed when I witnessed two bugs on a collision course inside the tunnel thinking "Now that are going to run into one another and get stuck and we will have to take this thing apart" Didn't happen. The two bugs divided one going left and the other right and passed one another like two ships in the night. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Like the other dads and I found out, these toys are cool and you can find HexBugs Nano V2 information on Facebook or see some more images and follow them on Instagram. See other kids playing with HexBugs and have your own building party at your house today.