Thursday, September 26, 2013

It's Just a Playdate, Not A Date

So, I read this article by Jenna Karvunidis of ChicagoNow who writes a section called High Gloss and Sauce. Her latest post called Advice to stay-at-home-dads from a cold, cold playground mom has me wondering just why Jenna doesn't want men and women to be just friends. It sounds like she is basing her entire life on When Harry Met Sally.

Jenna attempts to explain two problems that stay at home dads face on the playground. The first problem, she says is "Moms don't include you in playdates/outright reject your offers to get together" She explains that moms seek balance in their lives after dealing with kids all day and seek out other people like themselves. She infers that women don't want to spend that time with other guys purely because you are a guy. She contends that ZERO moms will want to have a playdate with you based on that premise.

In problem two according to Jenna "The ladies snub your hellos. Forget play dates and lunches frolicking in the meadows, these stuck-up prima donnas in their stupid pants won't even carry on a conversation with you." This probably is because some women don't know what to say to a guy. Again, remember the reason why we are even at the zoo, park, or library with our children; I am there for my kids to socialize with your kids. If you can't talk to me how do you expect your son to introduce himself to mine? Maybe we need an afterschool special for stay at home moms on how to talk to stay at home dads. I learned it by watching you mom!

I first started staying at home in 2008 when we moved to Rochester, NY. It was the first time I had lived in a city that was not Chicago and I knew no one except my in-laws. This was the year that my blog was born and when DadNCharge was coined by my wife, she ordered me vanity license plates to celebrate that fact.

I was typically the only dad dropping off at the new YMCA that we attended and usually all the moms that dropped off would do the same thing I did, worked out while our younger kids were being watched for two free hours while we were there. Seeing them day in and day out I got to know them for no other reason but to make friends. Many of them had older kids in the same elementary school and so we formed friendships. GASP!

We regularly had play dates, we would hang out at each other's houses, and best of all we would go out for girl's night out, just as friends. My wife met all these women, heard all the stories I relayed, and thought it was important for me to have friends who shared the same experiences. I did at times feel like the rooster in the henhouse being the only guy and hearing about their husbands or ex-husbands. Beyond the sex of our spouses I noticed that we had similar complaints, hardships, challenges, and triumphs.

After all, it is all just parenting. The only difference was that I had no stories about pregnancy or bloating unless I was gorging myself on appetizers at Label 7. I had to intervene when they complained about football but they accepted me for who I was, a parent. Not a guy trying to pick them up or hitting on them, just talking about what was good or bad about our days and sharing what was most important to us, our kids.

Jenna goes on in the article to say that the reason why she can't hang out with you is that being a stay at home mom is a "precarious position". She seems to think that hanging out with a stay at home dad would warrant her husband leaving her. Funny thing is, she doesn't really know if that were the case because she never has asked him and goes on that it is implied to be something that is wrong.

I know, you just want companionship and coffee and that thing where your kid screams for my kid's fishy crackers and I say yes and then they knock each other out over a game of tag while we play on our iPhones, but as long as my position in life is determined by my husband's happiness with my daily activities, I'm just not going to risk losing a good thing even if it means excluding someone in need. Sorry.

Weak. My wife trusts me and your husband should trust you. Let's put the onus on a husband that works long hours. Is he doing this with female co-workers? If so, then it is the same situation. Maybe just be honest about it? Maybe your husband would like this guy too and they may even get along.

When my wife would come to parties including these moms she would talk to the guys that worked just because they had more in common. My wife knows that stay at home dads are not as common and that I am surrounded by women. It doesn't make me a pimp and it shouldn't make me scary but your opinion contradicts everything we try to teach our kids about making friends.

When you talk about only letting a dad join in on the fun, why must we be in a group of people to be considered safe? It's just a playdate, not a real date. Get over that fear of the playground lurker. If he's wearing cargo shorts and a superhero T-shirt, he's probably a stay at home dad. And here's a big hint; he's pushing his kid on a swing or playing hide and go seek, WITH HIS KID! We are just talking at the park and you don't have to ever see me again if you don't want to. And no I don't want your number unless your daughter is getting along well with mine and I think they could be friends.

Listen, I know there are rules for playdate etiquette. I wrote a guide for stay at home dads just because I went through it. But there are real women out there who know what it is like to hang with a real dad and they aren't scared off just because I am a man.

When I left Rochester, I left my girls behind. The Y Mommies framed a picture of them with their kids and all signed it letting me know how they would miss me. I hang it where I spend most of my time, in our garage next to the Chicago Bears mini fridge and the battery organizer I am constantly dipping into. It makes me smile every time I see it because I miss those moms and not for any reason other than they were my friends.

My son and daughters meet kids on playgrounds all around Philly. Most of these kids they don't know but they seek out their company anyway. I've taught them that if they want to make friends they have to be willing to reach out and take a chance. If it doesn't work then at least they tried.

That's the thing about kids. They re-teach us lessons that adults forget. I would like to think you could take a page out of their book Jenna, you could learn a lot.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Like a Band-Aid

My church has a group that is called Mom's Morning Out and I regularly crash this group's playgroup during the week. You see, my area doesn't have that many stay at home dads and until I start my own group I need someplace that my daughters can play that they are familiar with.

We were discussing how the first week of school had gone and how everyone was handling the adjustment from the summer schedule. Some of the moms, like me, have a kid that has just started kindergarten this year. Except here is the difference. Lots of these moms feel GUILTY for dropping their kids off of school and getting three hours to themselves! Guilty? No. I feel elated!

Maybe it is because Sarah will turn six this September, a mere 16 days after school started for her. Maybe it is because after five years of premature re-graduation in the YMCA preschool programs I am ready for her to move on. Or maybe, just maybe I want to get rid of her so I can get shit done. Whatever it is, I certainly don't feel guilty about it.

What is it that moms feel guilty about exactly? I don't get it. After taking care of her day in and day out, keeping her safe from harm, changing diapers, potty training, and keeping her occupied while she constantly requests snacks like the hungry Sarlacc I am just fine to let her do that elsewhere. Why all the guilt moms? Kids need to get out and experience life without you there. They need to come back home excited about what they learned that day and talk to you about all the things they are going to do without you. That's awesome and you shouldn't feel guilty.

I get that this may be your baby. I get that it is a huge deal. But I also look forward to being in the bathroom so I can just pee alone.

I have seen far too many moms who drop off all wrong. At the gym, moms drop off their kids and if they cry they stick around. They hover outside, peeking in trying to will the crying child through some sort of mommy telepathy. "Please stop crying so that mommy can get her BodyPump class in today". That's not the way to do it.

They really should be using the Band-Aid Method. You don't slowly pull away from the skin, you should go as fast as you can. Don't turn around and go back. Walk away. Your kids will adapt. It's not mean. Most likely they are experiencing separation anxiety but I can tell you from experience with my three kids, going back in to console them is the worst thing you can do.

I know that all kids are different and react to strange people differently but it has always been my intent when my kids were very little for them to get used to the fact that this was daddy's time. They learned that they have to make the best of it even if they don't like it and they learned that I always come back. They don't do into it kicking and screaming and they most certainly don't cry until they throw up thus cutting into my cardio time.

The best thing to do is to introduce them to being dropped off at places that they are safe and secure. The gym, Sunday school, the local IKEA's play place while you load up on Swedish meatballs and modular furniture.

Don't hover or stick around. This gives them the impression that wherever you are leaving them is not cool but if they can just power through it for a couple of hours they will survive. They need to know that you dropping them off doesn't mean you left them on a Lord of the Flies island. In the worst case scenario, play with them for a few minutes until they get distracted and then bolt. Use what that elliptical gave you and hurdle those gates to get out of Dodge.

It has worked for my kids for the past five years since staying at home. All three go in willfully, never have a tantrum, and make friends with whomever is there on a day to day basis.

On Sarah's first day of kindergarten I knew that I could drive up in the circle, open the Swagger Wagon door, and let her go on her merry way. It would be easier for me, with my two year old in tow to make this happen especially when the winter comes.

I saw lots of parents get out and physically walk them down to their kids' rooms. In fact, many of them still do it and I wondered "When are they going to stop doing that?" and "Are their kids going to freak out when their parents don't do that?"

I asked Sarah in the car "Do you want me to walk you to your room or do you want to go by yourself?" "I want to go by myself!" she said emphatically. I pulled up that day and let her out, snapped a few pictures, and kissed her goodbye. Just like a Band-Aid, I let her go. She was off and skipping toward the the front doors excited for her first day.

I thought about what the rest of the afternoon was going to be like without Sarah. I would be able to focus just on Heidi. It was going to be like when we had just Adam. I wasn't going to be pulled in multiple directions and there would be no competition for attention. I could get shit done!

I pulled the Swagger Wagon away from the curb like a Band-Aid and never looked back. Turns out she found her way and made some new friends without me and she figured it out on her own.

Two weeks into the school year a letter has been sent home. It read "When dropping off your child at the front doors, allow children to walk to their class lineup on their own. This speeds up the attendance process and fosters independence." I know it is hard to let go but it is time for your baby birds to fly, just let them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never Forget

In only my third year of teaching in 2001, I was walking in between bells to the classroom that I taught homeroom. This was the classroom where all the important messages that the school passed on through me to the students. It was my job to connect with these kids and support them. These were "my kids".  On the way there, a student in the hall said "Mr. B, I just heard that a plane flew into the World Trade Tower" I thought, that can't be right and shrugged it off as student misinformation.

Headed to my class with impressionable teenagers I had no idea what I had to face that day. I witnessed the horror of 9/11 with those kids that day on our classroom monitors. The room was the most silent it had been in all my years of teaching. What was I going to say to them to make it all better? I was at a loss for words.

I didn't know what to say. I don’t think anyone did. What could I say to them that would make them feel secure again? I had no idea. So, I thought of the one thing that always made me feel better, write down what I was feeling.  As the towers crumbled so did our idea of safety that day. That feeling of being secure was taken from us and we felt lost and angry. Some of us still do.

During and after 9/11 it was hard to go back to teaching. How could I go on with my lesson with this going on? I couldn't ; all I kept thinking about were the people affected and if my best friend in NYC had been anywhere near it when it happened. How are you supposed to go on with life when something like this happens?

I spent days after that just talking with kids and having them write down their feelings. When I resigned from the school in 2008 I cleaned out my desk and found their journals. I still have them. Every emotion written in page after page of children's minds. I can tell you, that kids need to be reassured. Kids need to know that we want to keep them safe and that we are going to do everything we can to make sure that they are.

My wife was supposed to be staying in the hotel in one of the towers while visiting there with friends. At the last second, plans changed and they decided to stay at someone's house instead and headed out of the city. That part of fate has altered my life forever. Without that change, I might have never met my wife and thus would not have the life I have now or my children.

9/11 also changed our nation forever. It made us realize how we were vulnerable but also that we were strong. The people that lost their lives that day and the responders at Ground Zero showed just what America was made of. It didn't make us cower and hide, it made us strengthen our resolve. After the dust cleared and Americans started picking up the pieces again, you would see people driving around with flags in their cars; hanging flags out their windows.

The flag showed up more and more. Instead of it coming out for July 4th, it became a permanent staple in our everyday society. We still see the strength in the American people today when tragedy strikes. We have seen it in Sandy Hook in how the teachers responded and in the bombing in Boston. 9/11 made us reassess the way we travelled and how we handled security in this country. For many reasons it changed us but at the terrible loss of so many innocent lives.

I for one am flying my flag today. Whether it be at half mast or displayed proudly on your Facebook page we honor the victims and responders that died today. We will never forget you.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Making My Son a Super Man

I am afraid for my son. I want him to be a gentlemen to women but this online life people are living today may corrupt him unless I do something about it. So here is an open letter to my son about the way women should be treated.

Dear Adam, I am about to cock block you. I've had it with posts talking about a lack of quality guys with good values. Tired of the way that some men these days treat their women.

With the advances in technology and the instantaneous gratification that this sort of life provides, you guys have this sense that if things don't happen automatically or instantaneously, it is not worth waiting for and you move on to something else.

Let me tell you, that some things are worth waiting for. Now, here is the part where I talk about walking to school, both ways, up a hill. If you are looking to date someone take the following advice, try to be as old school as possible without completely losing your modern self.

When I was in college, I didn't have a computer. I used a word processor. The internet was in its beginning phases and if I wanted to access it, I had to walk to the lab and sign in to use a computer where logging on and getting messages from a Pearl Jam listserv blew my mind. I couldn't believe that I was interacting with people from South Carolina and other states, talking about my favorite band! To you, this music is probably considered classic rock, so I hope you are listening to it still.

We didn't have digital cameras or cellphones that you carried with you at all times. Thank God for that. Bringing a camera to a keg party was one of those unwritten rules like no photos during your bachelor party or ANY trip to Vegas. I think about all the stupid crazy things I did in college and can't imagine the ability to broadcast any of it to millions of people in an instant. Don't do it. You are going to need to learn restraint.

I know that in this age of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter that everyone is sharing anything and everything about themselves but that doesn't mean you will actually know that person at all. Online relationships are not always what they appear to be.

Believe it or not, I was in on before I met your mother. I met some cool people and some who weren't at all what they seemed. Get to know people one on one. Don't learn about them through texting or creeping their profile, find out the old fashioned way by doing activities with each other and formulate your own opinions about what you learn along the way.

There is lots to be said about having a one on one conversation with someone. You can read their body language and expressions and not rely on some emoticon to tell you that. You can't learn inflection from a computer, you won't hear their sarcasm, and you might miss their wit. Texting is easier sure, but you are not hearing what they are saying.

Your mom and I talked on the phone every night when we weren't together. Sometimes we even talked until one of us feel asleep. Have conversations with a girl. Find out her interests and LISTEN. Bring up something you learned about her later to show you really do care.

Dating has changed a lot. Flirting has changed even more. People text instead of talk on the phone and since images can be sent as instantaneously there is that temptation to share more of you than they will want to see. Don't be a dick and send a picture of yours, that's just gross. If a girl wants to see your business, you are going to want it to be happening IRL.

Call girls on the phone. Not when you are driving or bored but when you have set aside time to really talk. Here's one that you might want to Google or Bing or whatever the search engine you use in the future is; I used to have to use a rotary phone to call girls. By the time you got the courage up, you had to slowly dial that number building up the pressure and nerve. The push button phone revolutionized that, so you won't have to deal with the torturous dial.

Go out with girls on a date. Make sure they know its a date. Don't go with a big group and assume she knows you like her.

Never buy her flowers because you are in trouble. Buy her flowers all the time so it seems like second nature. Find out what are her favorite ones are and if she would rather get an Edible Arrangement because she can't keep them alive.

Find out what she likes and plan an activity with her. Have backup plans, know how to get there. Basically, all those skills your mom taught you, use them.

Get outdoors and experience something. Don't rely on a dinner and movie. While those are good, you can make a bigger impact with something cool. You're a smart and creative and girls are going to love that.

Don't act dumb because that's what you think girls like. Don't be an asshole. While girls may like that in the short term, ultimately that is not what they will be looking for in the long term. In short, be yourself and don't let anyone dictate what that should be.

Make her feel special. Always offer to pay. Hold doors open for her. If you would do all these things for your own mom or your sisters I would expect you would do it for every girl. As an eight year old boy you already do these things so I hope it doesn't change.

Mind your manners. Wow her with your intelligence. All people love to talk and you are one of them, so find something to talk about. Don't call her dude or bro. Don't swear.

Don't get hung up on any one girl. Don't obsess. This is not a good basis for a relationship. She should feel like your best friend but someone you are attracted to.

If it doesn't work out or something doesn't feel right, don't force it. Don't despair that you won't meet anyone. There are lots of girls in this world who will be looking for a guy like you someday. I hope that the way I have treated your mom and the example I set for you as a gentleman is going to stay with you. Treat girls the way you want your sisters to be treated.

In short, define who you are by being yourself. Don't let anyone dictate how you should feel about a person. When it is right you will know. Be a gentleman, a super man, and love will find you.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Off To School For The First Time

Hard to believe that this little baby is going into kindergarten!

Sarah has spent four years at the YMCA preschools both in New York and here in Pennsylvania. Each time the year has ended they have had a big celebration. In New York, kids walked with caps and received diplomas and while it was a cool event for the kids it lured me into this sense that she was never going to be old enough to go to school. I used to call it Premature Re-Graduation.

Last year was the exception, she has moved beyond pre-school and into kindergarten. Since we moved after Adam was done with kindergarten, Sarah is the first in our family to attend this school at this grade level. She is a brave new explorer! And while our experiences at our Y have been great, the curriculum has been more about sending home macaroni art than teaching her how to read.

Pre-school is often about the socialization of your kids. They learn how to make new friends,sharing, playing together, and parents get to organize playdates with other kids in their class. Unfortunately for Sarah she was in a class with only one other girl whose mom wasn't that keen on dropping off her daughter at a SAHD's house. Only at the very end of the year was I able to make some playdates happen. I've written a guide for SAHDs on how to have successful playdates and have been stood up for a playdate too. Seems like I should write an etiquette version for SAHMs too.

In any event, it's a huge day. Everyone in my family is excited for Sarah. Missing the kindergarten cutoff because of a late birthday has had us in a holding pattern with her for school. She is so ready! In celebration of this big event, Personal Creations has sent Sarah a Personalized Ragdoll Backpack. This backpack comes in five different styles, personalized, with a ragdoll that you can detach for play. It's a great idea and my daughter was so excited to see it when I revealed the surprise.

This backpack is the perfect thing to send your childred off to school with a friend to keep them company. If you would also like to get one for the little one in your life visit Personal Creations Ragdoll Backpack and enter PROMO code RAGDOLL50 at checkout. You can get yours for 50% OFF until September 5th.

FTC Disclaimer: Personal Creations provided me with a personalized ragdoll backpack in exchange for sharing this information with my readers. The opinions expressed in this post are solely mine, DadNCharge. It made my almost six year old girl giddy with excitement and that was enough for me!