Friday, June 5, 2009
My father died just before Christmas last year and yesterday I got around to going through his things. It's not something you ever picture yourself doing even though it's a job almost all of us can expect.
My dad and I had a few rough years recently..well a couple of rough decades really. He was Southern, and a drinker, and he had made some very poor life choices that somehow I became responsible for in the end.
I have tried to remember him young and successful, flying airplanes, sailing boats, telling stories, holding everyone enthralled in that rolling honey boil of a voice. I have tried remembering being the apple of his eye and following him on a thousand adventures.
Going through his things there weren't too many reminders of those times we spent together that were good. Mostly I saw evidence of his downward spiral. There was a box of old photos and cards that I had given him and other personal scraps of memories that conjured the bright times...but all in all my father just wasn't there.
Strangely enough, it was an old flannel coat that brought him back to me. A snuggy jacket he had worn on wood cutting expedition's, and fishing trips, and working on my house and in the garden. A coat he had only worn in old age and never in his hey day. But somehow it held the smell of him, the essence of him...woodsmoke and fresh air and Irish Spring soap and tobacco, that I recalled from my early years when he was still my hero.
I tossed it in the dump with most of his other things...but for some reason I couldn't leave it and I scrambled back in and pulled it out and held it pressed to my face. Then with my eyes closed and my nose in old flannel I could remember going to Pleasure Island on the boat and looking for pirates, and watching the thunderstorms roll in together from the safety of the garage, lightening bugs in a jar, learning to sail by starlight, talking late into the night, and being tucked in, and a million other moments.
A large part of being a father, of being a parent, is making mistakes...but hopefully if you do something right, you will be remembered for more than that. You will be greater than the sum of your left overs..
You will linger on in as a scent, an adventure, a gentle touch in the large dark night. You will be remembered.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Women have a lot of weird hangups about food.
Arguably food is there to eat. But women have given it a weight and importance that goes beyond it's abilities to nourish. They talk about it gingerly, discussing the ingestion of food with the careful phrasing of cocktail conversation about Far Left Politics and the Second Coming.
It's a topic that is socio-political, cultural, genetic, and economic.
If you mention food to a woman you will find yourself in a conversation about dieting, coupon clipping, additives, and organic properties. You may be judged with the intensity of the Nuremberg Trials on your contribution to the state of the world.
If you talk to a man about food he will pretend to listen while he eats it.
Now I know there are calorie counting Jareds out there, and skinny artistic ascetic guys who are happy with a saltine cracker and a glass of water, and conscientious SAHDs who make sure that there children eat breakfast from the farmer's market, or have a balanced meal.
Many men I know are foodies, gastronomic wunderkinds that cook without measuring or timing...that create buffets fit for a king while making good conversation and holding a glass of wine or a beer.
These are not the guys I'm talking about.
I'm talking about the other kind...the kind that eat whatever they want because..here's the kicker...it tastes good...and food is fun and tasty and hell... it's here right? Somebody made it so somebody's got to eat it.
These are the kinds of men a weekend parent strives to be.
Successful weekend Momdadding has a lot to do with food. Sometimes our weekends kind of revolve around it. Eating is a big part of the celebration, the letting go, kicking back, and letting it all roll attitude of a Weekend Dad.
I can plan big outings, and camp in the yard, and play Star Wars action figures for hours, and the kids will tell me at bedtime that the best part of the day was the pizza.
I'm was born in the South, so I'm no stranger to food.
It is the focus of births, weddings, divorces, and death. It is the answer to every equation. And most of the men cook as well if not better than the women.
I was raised on chicken fried steak, and chili, and gumbo, and beef in all it's incarnations. I like Hershey's syrup on chocolate ice cream, and I know that pimento cheese is actually a food group. I was taught how to gnaw bones. I believe a meal can consist of a meat and two starches and no vegetables.
In Heaven I will eat fried shrimp every night and still have a small ass and clear arteries.
When I was little we owned a restaurant and often I was the advertisement...the skinny little girl in the window eating her way down though a pile of ribs.
When I was a teenager I became a calorie counting vegetarian and broke my father's heart.
As a mother I am careful to make sure my children have a balance or healthy close to the earth foods and the occasional surprise meals made like I remember.
As a weekend dad I am re-learning how to love food for food's sake. To eat food without worrying about where it came from, what it will do while it's in me, and where it's going.
I eat therefore I am.
Eat something, anything. Lot's of things that you normally say no to.
Eat them where you want, when you want, and revel in it.
Food is fun Weekend Dad novices!...this is perhaps the greatest secret in your Momdad arsenal. Your kids will appreciate it if you let them have two Popsicles before dinner and skip salad. They will remember it in their old age.
And there is nothing better than eating anything smothered in cheese and feeling absolutely no guilt or responsibility about it.
To get you started here are a few of our favorite recipes.
My Dad's Texas Chili
Really really simple. Really really easy.
You might want to play with the proportions a bit until you find the combination that makes your taste buds say Yee Haw.
1 lb ground chuck
1 very large onion or two smaller.
2 tsps of minced or chopped garlic.
3-4 Tbls of chili powder
1 Tbls cumin
Brown your meat and soften the onions. Just before they reach desired brownness add garlic and spices. Stir together until ingredients are an even red color (from the chili of course). Add water until the chili looks about like the amount of soupiness that appeals to you. (For me it's about 1 1/2 to 2 cups) This mixture will be watery and will thicken more as it cooks.
Cook on a med low heat for at least an hour, adding water as you cook to keep it at the original level. Do not allow the water to cook away too much or you will lose your flavor. Stir occasionally and stir again before dishing out.
This chili is probably runnier than you are used to and it's packed with flavor. You can eat it plain, over a burger, or like my family does...over a pile of vermicelli with cheese melted on top. We call it Texas Spaghetti and boy is it good stuff!(My dad actually used to cook a hot dog or two in the chili toward the end and eat it on the side. It's dang good but only for the strong of heart.)
Servings: We feed one adult and three kids with this and still have some left overs.
Calories: There are no calories in Texas, sugar.
Philly Steak and Cheese Tater Tots
Great for movie night. Sometimes we each get a fork and eat these out of the pan.
One each red and green bell pepper
One large onion
1 lb of boneless steak (breakfast or other thinly sliced boneless. Feel free to use the good stuff but you'll put so much cheese on top you'll hardly taste it.)
Take one bag of Tater Tots and cover with sauteed onions, bell pepper, and steak strips. Top with mozzarella cheese and pop in the broiler until cheese melts.
Servings: Up to five portions or one generous one.
Calories: 10,867,042 per serving.
Avocado Tomato Dogs
We used to have a hot dog steamer that made these perfectly. We finally had to throw it out after ten years when it started shocking the chef. I don't know if they make them anymore but boy is it a good investment.
Boil, steam, nuke, or grill your dogs of choice. Really you should be eating the all beef ones, but if you like ears and tails in your buns than go for it.
Warm your buns.
Spread a layer of mayo on the bun and stagger two slices of red ripe tomato (beefsteak preferably) and two slices of ripe, (not too ripe) avocado. Add pepper and eat.
These are really really good and elevate the hot dog to more of a meal.
Servings: A child will eat one or two and an adult could pack away four (ahem...not that I would know or anything.
Calories: The amount of calories one finds in a hot dog, some mayo, a bun, tomatoes, avocados, and pepper.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Put something together without a man
Okay boys the secret is out.
It actually isn't that hard connecting electronics. I mean it isn't well-house science. All these years I thought I needed a man to hook up the tv-dvd-vcr-receiver-speakers-projector-second telephone line-multiple computers.. Turns out I needed two fingers some spatial skills and a lot of patience.
One of the coolest things I ever got (but don't ask me how because it's a long story involving a church, a crazy lady, a sudden death, a race car driver, and a policeman.) was a projector. It's the kind with the two hundred dollar light bulb in it...the kind that's kind of nerve wracking to use around children who are attracted to bright light and disaster like moths. Anyhow...
After staring at a jumble of inherited electronics while watching my fifteen year old television with a stereo/mono switch for a sound system, I decided to try to piece it together. And the short story is I did...and it wasn't that hard.
I am just sending a shout out to all the ladies...if you are staying in a bad marriage because you don't know how to program the dvd player to record a movie or network your computer...get out now.
It's very doable. I think the discovery that a woman can plug wires in and run cable may be a key component in a second feminist movement.
But I digress...I am the man of the family now and I don't have time for all this hen talk.
I put it together, turned on the projector, threw a sheet up on the wall, and sat back to watch "The Hulk" Momdad style..with a plate of Philly Steak and Cheese Tater Tots and a bucket load of tolerance...enjoying the movie even while the little kids "played along" with it...jumping up and down on the couch and growling at each other and saving each other from peril.
The Tots helped.
Hook something up without needing to be hooked up.
Live life without a manual and figure things out on your own.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The strangest thing is happening at my house.
My kids are playing together.
I am an only child. I have no point of reference for siblings. Having more than one kid has been like orchestrating a science experiment without a control group. Each child's birth has deepened the mystery to me.
As an only, I spent my whole childhood playing with a huge cast of imaginary friends and fantasizing about having brothers and sisters. I even pretended to be my own twin for awhile.
I grew up in a sibling free wasteland, a place where there was never anyone to understand how stupid, unfair, or ridiculous my parents were being, a place where I opened my Christmas presents alone while the folks watched, a place where a bunk bed was unnecessary even though I wanted one.
When my children multiplied I expected them to appreciate how lucky they were to be born into a herd, a gaggle, a pod, of other children.
I thought they would spend their days together planning escapades, building forts, and fighting pirates in Neverland.
What a bunch of BS.
Naturally, as most people that have brothers and sisters and who do not think the Parent trap was a true story know, the last thing you want to do is hang out with your siblings.
They not only don't spend time commiserating about their parents, they use them to plot against each other. They fight over
They agree that they do not like each other.
Being the kind of parent I am, I'm constantly enouraging them to do something together. I keep an album (a very small one) of the few times they have hugged, kissed, or sat near each other willingly.
But something has begun to happen this summer. Summer, the time I dreaded all year because it meant they would be stuck in the same house, same car, same yard for days on end...summer when my job as referee would kick over to full time...they are beginning to see one another as people they might want to be around.
The teenager has actually talked to Liam and Isabel, she has let them come into her room, she has tickled them and chased them and admitted once or twice that she thinks they might someday become human.
She has picked up the baby without being asked and hugged him and made him giggle.
I am beginning to think she might be human too.
But it is the middle children that have really come around and left me wondering if I'm hallucinating.
They have willingly turned off the TV and played together for days...yes days... on end. They have played Spiderman, and Pet Store, and Star Wars, and Princess and race cars, and dollies.
Not only are they playing together cooperatively but they are shifting back and forth across gender preferences and finding ways to appreciate each other's interests.
Wisely I have sat back and let it happen. I have sat on my hands to keep from applauding. I have taken only a few pictures, casually, so I don't alert them to the miracle that is happening.
It is something to see after years of expecting, then hoping, and then finally convincing myself that I had the wrong idea.Of admitting sadly that siblings were punching bags not playmates.
It turns out all I had to do was be patient.
Do I think this will last?...well...I am an only child. I grew up believing in fantasy. There is part of me that does think that they might stay this way...that soon they will begin to snuggle up in bed and share secrets and plan the next days adventure...that they might actually come to love each other.
Hey what are you laughing at?
Better clap your hands quick buddy, before a fairy dies.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
How to Hang a Spoon on Your Nose
-Hanging a spoon on one's nose requires only a metal teaspoon, a nose, and a little self confidence.
Here's the secret that makes the Cool Mom skill work: Your child needs to huff on the spoon to get it really fogged up. That's the only way it will stick.
First have your child shine up the spoon and his nose with a napkin. Now have him take a deep breath and gently exhale into the curved in side of the spoon. Tell him to really fog it up.
Then with his head held regally and tipped slightly back, he should gently but firmly press the spoon onto his nose.
The tip of the spoon should be near the bridge of his nose. The part where the handle begins should be near the end of his nose.
Have him press firmly on the back of the spoon for about five seconds. Once the spoon sticks, have him stop pressing and slowly remover his hands.
It will take a few trys but you'll get it. The spoon can hang in place for an amazingly long time...as long as ten or fifteen minutes with practice.
This is a great thing to do with the "I'm so bored" crowd. It also works on car trips and makes family dinners more fun. I suggest that you practice first so you can impress the kids. Go ahead...you know you want to.
*excerpted from 101 Secrets A Cool Mom Knows by Sue Ellin and Walter Browder
Monday, May 25, 2009
Even God rested.
Vacations, even the best one's take the stuffing out of you. If there is one thing I'm learning from being a Dad on weekends, it is to relax when I need to. This Monday the kids and I are just chillin' on the couch watching movies talking about the trip. I'm not even going to unpack yet. It's summer...I can have a long Momdad weekend and skip the manic Monday.
Today, if at all possible I suggest you do the same with your young'ens. If the weather is nice, drag out those lawn chairs and kick back with a root beer. Remeber all those boys that have gone to war and fought for you so you can sit back in freedom. Remember all those mothers, and fathers, and brothers, and husbands, and lovers, and sons.
You are one lucky son of a gun.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Everybody say OH WELL
When traveling with children it's inevitable that:
- Someone will fight
- Someone will cry
- That you won't be able to afford certain souvenirs
- That you will get lost trying to find your hotel, then need to switch rooms, and then still have to order more coffee, more shampoo, more blankets, extra towels, and an extra room key.
- The jacuzzi will be out of order
- You will lose your parking ticket
- You will park fourteen miles from any attraction you have to walk to
- There will be no bathrooms anywhere when you need them
- No one will agree on what to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, or dessert
- The minivan will amplify the sound of children approximately 100 times
- You will all wear on each other's nerves
- At some point in the vacation you will swear you need a vacation from the vacation, and that you are never taking one again
A father is often the intervention, and he is almost always the comic relief. While a mother spends her time patrolling the world and her children, on the lookout for misconduct or potential disaster, the father somehow accepts the existence of both, the likelihood of each, and still manages to enjoy the times in between.
It is my most critical lesson as a Momdad. To exist in those spaces.
On my Momdad vacation I managed at last to do that. Perhaps because I had been in a hospital where children were dying. I saw them with my own eyes. Kids with bald heads, and wasted limbs; parents with haggard faces and empty arms.
Somehow, through some miracle or sheer luck...I have four...FOUR children, who are healthy and whole enough to spend an entire day playing with me... running, jumping, fighting, eating, wetting their pants, screaming at each other, finding excitement at new discoveries, laughing, and stopping to tell me that that they love me.
We walked out of that hospital together, and somehow as soon as that sunk in, the trivial inevitable mishaps of life didn't seem like such a big whooping deal any more.
I managed to experience everything on the list above and say "Oh well."
Those are not the things I will remember about this vacation.
I will remember that in the spaces between those things:
- We played in the pool without looking at the clock
- We shopped for breakfast at the farmer's market, my teenager like the chef she someday wants to be carefully selecting each mushroom, each piece of fruit delicately and deftly, silently thrilled by her own knowledge and skill in the matter
- We learned that cherries taste better when they dribble down you chin
- We walked to the famous Arch, it's slender arcing curve nestling just a small coal of pink light before the sun went down. Underneath it we lay on our backs and watched the sky. And then we walked down fifty steps to a flooded street, a surreal scene with puddles of street lights, and signs cocked at an angle and staked in the river. My children waded up to their knees in the Mississippi where the road used to be, delighting in the strangeness of the moment, in the way the water hushed and hid things that they knew had been there. It was my favorite moment of the trip, maybe even one of the best of my life. We had come upon a unicorn, unexpected magic spilling into the everyday.
- At the zoo I rented a stroller that would have been worth my last penny, it held all three little kids and I could have pushed it with one finger. The animals were all out right on cue. We pet stingrays, laying on the wall on our bellies, reaching out while the Rays nuzzled us and splashed and jumped. We could have spent all day there, connecting with something unexpected. I followed the Middle Littles as they ran from exhibit to exhibit, equally excited about lions, chimpanzees, penguins, snakes, sea lions, birds, and even bugs on the ground. Insert all the cliches about experiencing the world like a little child here.
- We sailed home without a hitch, stopping halfway to get a pizza. Instead of eating in the car or the restaurant we took dinner to park. And then after we had eaten, even though it was dark and we were exhausted and road weary and hours from home we stopped and played until late at night, trying rock climbing walls and teeter totters and the tiny tots playground, and the big twisty slide.
We played until there was no way we would get home before midnight.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Be able to tell the difference between the small stuff and the big stuff
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Charity Begins at Home
Once again I have an itinerary in my head, so I round up the tribe and march them through the obligatory fun stops. I am not completely reverting to Momhood though, because the scheduling revolves around the promise of free food and drinks in the hotel restaurant...a marketing ploy that I am 100% for.
We blow some quarters in the advertised "game room",(A claw machine and a racing video crammed next to the wash machines in the laundry) and then jump in the pool for 42 minutes of swimming before our appointment with h'orderves. Baby Oliver floats around enamored by this larger bathtub, his Sponge Bob trunks billowing around him. (He selects his clothing based on the size of the cartoon eyeballs printed on them.)
We play Octopus..a family favorite that can be adapted to pools, trampolines, and darkened bedrooms, where I make a sound something like blablbalblablbuloblo and wave my arms around trying to catch them when they come near me. The teenagers play Marco Polo until they realize they must be stupid and they began to float coolly around.
Times up we're out ! We go after lots of threats and sneaky returns to the water. I am morphing back into a mother, I can feel the pull of the moon. The hair is retracting, my face reverting to a pinched and harried expression, my voice raising several octaves.
We march through the shower and come out dressed for the evening. Downstairs we snarf mini hot dogs and nachos and watch the college kids do a mating dance to kill time before the Cardinals game.
We find an electronic hockey game which stays on until you make a goal, so the middle kids are at it for a good forty five minutes and I am able to sip a weak but blessedly free cocktail.
Now it feels like a vacation.
We head out into downtown looking for adventure.
I love St Louis. It's one of my favorite cities on earth. Just grimy enough to indicate it's advanced age but not as sooty and dank as London or New York. It's friendlier, but just enough so that you feel tolerated as opposed to threatened. It's full of hardworking long term citizens and lacks the frippery and oddness of a Western city but still offers the amenities.
And for some reason St Louis loves children. It is not catering to them in a capitalist sort of way..it is inviting them, wrapping it's arms around them. St Louis offers the end of the jump rope to a parent and invites the kids to play.
There are almost no safety rails or warning signs, unlike California, and so a parent has to be just that...a parent...but it's a place to Let Go and Play, to sip a latte while your child teeters high above the earth in a school bus plunked on a roof, or strolls the river banks, or runs through a fountain, or climbs a giant turtle.
And like any city it has vagrants.
The first one finds us on Laclede's landing, tracks us down the street, offer us his sob story, and asks for money for food.
I am blinking in astonishment.
I am standing here alone with fifteen million kids and no wedding ring and this guy wants my money.
He is not an observant sales man.
I tell him my sob story and he is unmoved, he just wants cash.
Fallon's best friend is persuaded in the way of teenagers and gives him two bucks. I feel only a bit guilty...I wish I had a peanut butter sandwich to give him, that way if he really is hungry he can eat. But I march away, worried that I am giving the children the wrong message.
I try to explain that he is a young healthy man, that he has no business pestering a mother and children for money. That he could work more easily than I...that we only have about forty bucks for this trip that blahblahblah.
I wonder what a dad would have done. Would he have given the guy a buck? Told him to go jump in a lake? Would that man even have asked a dad for money?
We go looking for gelato and as we spend fifteen dollars for five scoops of ice cream I question my motives again. I am still worried about the man at the landing and feeling guilty for eating posh dessert. My children are selfish, it is the nature of children. They happily eat and ask for more. They do not care that someone else is hungry anywhere.
I reassure myself that I give to charity and volunteer often where I know there is really a need. I am still arguing with myself when we walk back to the car in a dark side street and a man barrels out from the bus stop waving his arms and shouts "What's happenin'?!"
The teens squeak an answer and jump into the car.
He's still coming shouting "What's happenin?!"
I stuff the little kids into the van and start buckling them in like an idiot, trying to stay calm and plot a course to the driver's side.
He's still saying it "What's happenin'? What's happenin?" His arms waving wildly in the dark.
I want inexplicably to yell "What's happenin'" back at him and make the octopus noise blaoblaboblboublbllo.
Inside the safety of my car I am begining to get angry. I am not going to stand for this. He is still yelling, out of his mind with "what's happenin's"
"I'll tell you what's happenin'!" I shout unheard by anyone but the children. "I am going to mess you up! I am a bad ass mother!" I shout "And I am going to eff you up with my flip flop...don't you doubt it... I will beat your ass with my flip flop..I will mess you up!"
And that's when we come around the corner into the light and see that he is crippled, held in place by bad legs and a crutch, his voice the only thing he can send our way. The teens are in hysterics laughing and the children are bewildered...and I am abashed and confused.
I have yelled at a crazy cripple.
That is the extent of my bravery. I have denied one man a dollar and taken out my wild oats on a cripple.
My suggestion is that you fork over a dollar or two. It is much less than you will exact from your own conscience if you don't.
Really explain things to your children. Help them understand what charity really is, and where it is best applied.
Put your money where your mouth is. Don't yell at cripples.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Get Out of Dodge
It's desperate to use a doctors visit as an excuse for a vacation you can't afford.
It's probably almost sick...like a Munchhausen vacation. But beggars can't be choosers. Isabel has had some mystery ailment for almost a year now, one that has left our local doctors puzzled and has finally resulted in our being sent to the great mecca of Saint Louis for a specialist. I was both relieved and frustrated to be taking this step. Relieved because I just want Isabel to get better, frustrated because we couldn't afford it.
Thank God for Priceline...it's like legalized gambling with a guaranteed prize. Usually I just put in some ridiculously low figure and end up overpaying for a 2 1/2 star hotel...and this time was no different. But still I feel vindicated getting a mediocre hotel room at a discount.
Now the only hurdle I had to jump was how to integrate a Momdad weekend into a vacation. There is nothing that brings out the harried, short tempered, over scheduling, money pinching, fun-killing mother in me like a car trip far away with four children. I become Kate Gosselin on a bad day. But this time I was determined to do it...to Let Go while going to the doctors, sitting for hours in a small space together, finding our hotel using only one way streets headed in the opposite direction, and walking around the city, all without the help of mind altering substances.
It only took me eight hours to pack enough food, changes of clothing, and car games to make the overnight trip and we were on our way, picking up Fallon's best friend for added value. Miraculously the baby slept, the kids were interested in the scenery, the teenagers agreed to let me listen to REM and the Chili Peppers, we didn't run out of food the first hour,...and...now this is really beyond belief... and you will probably never listen to another word I say...but nobody had to stop to pee.
So we actually made it to the doctors on time. The appointment took all of 45 minutes where the doctor, no doubt an expert even though he looked to be about 100 and didn't understand a word I said, assured me that Isabel was just reacting to stress and that we should try to have more fun.
Are you freaking kidding me?!
"We are a pretty upbeat fun little family" I told him.
I must have spoken to his deaf ear. "I'm sure you can work something out" he told me. Nowhere in there was a suggestion as to how we might relieve her stress, just the implication that I was nurturing a little bundle of nerves and probably making it worse. But I didn't act like a mom...oh no...I just let it all roll off...I didn't defend myself or yell "WTF?". I just nodded and kept my opinions to myself and walked out of there more determined than ever to have fun (As it turns out one of her tests came back positive for Celiac's disease so Stress that MoFo.)
Outside in the sun...a vactioney sort of sun...a city sun..a we're not in Kansas anymore sort of sun, I really was able to let it go. Something about being out of your own environment, free from the familiar rules and rituals, allows for an experience that is somewhat surreal. It seemed like instead of being as difficult as coming out of rehab and trying not to drink in all the old familiar places, it was going to be easier to Momdad here away from home.
I fastened my tribe back into the minivan, cranked up the music, and slid over to our hotel smooth as cream, ready to dump all our emergency food on the floor of the room and hit the pool.
Get away, get far away from all those routines that keep you from experiencing your day. Step out of your circle and Let Go.
Accept that everything will be alright one way or another. Remember that it always is.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
to do with your kids that are always less than twenty dollars or free.
1.Go on vacation in your own back yard
Take a nature hike (depending on your yard you probably won't even need to bring extra water.) Pitch a tent or spread a blanket and watch the night sky come. Camp out right there on your own turf.
2. See the world from a child's eye view
Experience the down low. Walk on your knees or get down on all fours. If you have a baby, lay on the ground and experience things from an ankle biters perspective. Little kids love this and you really will develop an appreciation for what it's like to navigate and observe their world.
3. Google Earth
Zoom from space to sea level. This is just one of the coolest things ever. Elementary kids spend hours on this touring the world. We like to look for penguins in the Antarctic and find Disney World. And it's the easiest way to find yourself.
4. Art for arts sake
Picasso said that every child is an artist. Most cities have art museums with free admission. If you've never been, check it out. Not every painting is a stuffy old picture of some dude in a wig. If you can't get out to one try the internet. Check out The Smithsonian's Night at the Museum treasure hunt.
and the Metropolitans Museum Kids site.
5. Park it
We love parks and playgrounds, from the elementary school playground to the city park. These are the perfect places to be a Momdad and find the kid in you. Make sure you go down the slide and climb over and under everything. Even teens love playgrounds and they might just jump at the chance to go with you. (Even though they will pretend you are lame for asking)
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Here's Tuesday's Tip for those seeking enlightenment and knowledge in their role as Weekend Dad.
How to Win at Arm Wrestling
My son has noodley little arms, even for a five year old, but despite this he loves feats of strength. We used to fall back on thumb wrestling since our thumbs are the most evenly matched parts of our bodies, but now we've graduated to arm wrestling because we've learned a trick, Even a little guy can beat a big guy at arm wrestling with this secret under his belt.
The trick is to use your wrist instead of your arm.
-Every wrestling match starts with your friend yelling "ready-set-go!". The second your kid hears the T in "set" have him quickly curl his own wrist pointing his knuckles back toward his own body. To get the most leverage he should keep his arm as close to his body as possible.
As he curls his own wrist toward himself he's also cocking the other guys wrist backwards. By bending his opponent's arm at the wrist, he's destroying the other guys ability to use his entire hand and arm for leverage. Before his opponent has time to think twice, Wham! Bam! Your kid has won!
If your kid wants to buff up before the big event he can squeeze silly putty or one of the hand muscle strengthening balls sold in any sporting goods store.
As physical challenges go, arm wrestling is one of the least aggressive. Yet it keeps the cowardly aggressors away. A kid with arm-wrestling prowess who feels and acts physically confident will be less likely to be bullied.
*excerpted from 101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows by Sue Ellin and Walter Browder
Monday, May 18, 2009
What did I learn this weekend? Oh man. (pun intended)
This has been a strange four years for me. I moved out to a farm after thirty two years of a kushie west coast existence. I don't mean we were ever rich...just that we had it easy. Everything was new, there were no tornadoes, heat was something that came on if you flipped a switch, ice was something we put in our diet sodas, water came from pipes, and bugs were convinced that Avon skin so soft was to be avoided.
Renovating my house with a baby or two strapped to my back while I hauled firewood, wielded a crow bar, carried out hot water to a cow during ice storms, or used a blow torch to take up old asphalt tiles, has turned me into a different sort of woman. Sort of like Lara Croft with mom boobs.
I have experienced divorce, the death of my fiance several months before our wedding, the loss of my father, and the birth of a new unexpected baby that I would have to raise alone with three other children. I have faced these things with an equanimity I think I must have inherited from my ancestors. I am the end result of those wild roaming Scots, those Machiavellian Frenchmen, those maudlin epic Irish immigrants, the shrewd and sometimes cold Germans. I have endured, I am still standing, I am actually still smiling.
But I am realizing some mistakes. I used to think I didn't like men, and then suddenly my survival was dependent on them, and then I needed them to teach me anything I could so I could take over my own life. And then suddenly I was left without any men around me, to protect me, to irritate me with their misunderstood traits, to say...fix the pipes in the well house.
I remember being so frustrated that my father could spend all day on a project looking for parts, fitting it together, while I whipped around the house doing my thing like a hummingbird. Then I spent the day in the well house just like he used to, trying to make something work without the right parts or the exact knowledge. And of course I didn't manage to do it. Somehow the men in my life always seemed to be able to repair something with chewing gum, a bit of tinkering, and the elusive man knowledge that I, quite frankly, do not have, and probably never will.
Now, I'm no doubt going to irritate the feminists out there, and maybe some SAHDs, but the truth is I think we really are better suited to our own roles almost all the time. Sure we can be taught to do things, but some sort of innate ability, a fairy kiss from the cradle, gives one gender an advantage over the other in certain areas. And here's another thing. It's hard work being a man. Little did I know how difficult it can be to play with your kids while setting an example and holding down a d job and and holding out the fort. I'm going to go out on a limb here and actually say this... I think it is just as hard to be a dad as it is to be a mom. That is, it's hard to be a good parent if you are doing it right.
So now, I am humbled, and newly appreciative of all the boys I've loved before. And I am looking at my sons with new eyes, admiring their proclivities. Baby Oliver's eyes actually light up when he sees a car or construction vehicle. Liam wants to take everything apart and figure out how it works. It's amazing really how they came on the scene already prepared for what they will most likely have to do. And I am comforted too. It won't be long before I'll be able to pass the torch and go back to being a lady while someone else fixes the pipes.
And I will always, always say thank you...and really mean it.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
This Sunday I set out to do Man Things...
I was attempting to fill the void my father had left behind, as well as get around to the things he would normally have been doing for me. After he passed away suddenly this winter the children and I decamped from our old house, an eternal renovation project, and moved into my mother's. This alone has led to many hilarious and frustrating developments which are a story for another time.
So my house has sat unused (disused) and has begun to show extreme signs of abandonment. I decided the best remedy for that and for a long Sunday stretching out into wherever, was that I wear the pants in the family and gather up the kids for a day of Man Chores.
We started out the morning on the porch with hot chocolate and a pair of binoculars prepared to watch the local wildlife wake up. As it turns out we were the local wildlife...so wild that we scared anything feathered or four footed away. So mostly we just slurped marshmallows and watched the leaves on trees close up. After fortifying ourselves with manly fried eggs and sausage we sauntered over to the homestead with a List.
Now I understand why men don't make lists...they are set ups for failure.
My Man Chores List
- Mow the lawn
- Fix well house pipes
- Take trampoline apart
- Clean and move motor home to barn
- Get old Explorer running and move to barn
- Burn old lumber and tree limbs
- Remove hanging limbs from storm and two trees that fell down
- Wash minivan
Okay, I knew it was a lot, even for someone that knew what they were doing, but the sun was shining and I had high hopes.
I also had high grass. About four feet high actually. So while the baby was napping I hauled out the old push mower and cranked it up. (pulled the little starter cord four hundred time while yelling "crap!" a lot and pleading)
Because of the jungle-like thickness and height of the grass I had to tilt the mower at an extreme angle to keep it form clogging up...so pretty much I crawled around on my knees mowing. I managed to cut a few game trails for us where we needed to go and gave up on the rest.
Next the well house. During a hard freeze in December one of the pipes had burst and flooded the yard. I wasn't about to fix it in the snow and ice when I could hide at my mother's until the sun came out again. So here I was. I began by removing the broken part of the pvc which miraculously pulled out of just the right spot. No problem, I only had to replace one piece. I gave it one solid tap just to settle things and the whole thing broke in pieces. I spent the next hour or so trying to put together all the puzzle pieces of pipe and elbows laying around the workroom into a facsimile of what I had seen before (had I known this would happen I might have paid closer attention).
The kids played in the maze of mower trails and pretended to be on a boat. The baby chewed on pipe fittings and watched me suspiciously. Fallon lay on a blanket pretending to sleep when I asked for help.
Finally as I stood with an unrecognizable brass valve thing in one hand and the hammer I was beating it with in the other she piped up. "Mom you don't need to be able to fix a well house...look at all the other stuff you already know how to do...it's a well house mom and you're a girl."
"Not today I'm not." I growled. But she was right, I am a girl and my genetic predisposition to nurturing has absolute nothing to do with fixing plumbing.
I finally gave up on the well house.
Do you know how hard it is to dismantle a trampoline with nothing but a pair of needle nose pliers?
I do. It takes roughly one hour to remove ten springs. I have decided to save this project for another day as well.
With a lot of close calls and a large amount of gasoline we managed to get all the wet wood and lumber burning. It seems destruction is more my line. We danced around the bonfire eating chips and drinking ice tea from the jug.
I was beginning to lose it. But at least something on my list was getting done.
Now it was time to move the motor home...my dads' '77 Dodge monster that was adorning my yard all winter sinking ever deeper into our notorious mud. I had put the battery charger on it all night and got it going. Now I took a chain and connected it to the back of my van. I gave Fallon specific instructions on how to help pull and told her three times to stop if I honked.
Little did I know the horn was broken.
After some horrendous grating noises and a few chugging attempts at turning over the engine the battery died again. Fallon finally stopped the van. "Was it supposed to sound like that?" she asked.
Onto the next thing.
The charger was busy trying to reanimate the old Ford Explorer so I stopped long enough to scarf up some chips, add more wood to the fire and beat my chest while jumping on the now saggier trampoline with the pirates. The baby had now decided he was bored of this adventure and he began to complain.
The Ford Explorer started and I limped it back to the barn.
Yay!!! I could finally scratch something off the list. I shook my fist at the sky and chortled madly. The children stayed clear of me now.
I wrestled a fourteen foot tree limb to the ground and dropped it into the bon fire. Effin woohoo!!!!...Two things!! Two Man Things...and it had only been six hours! Alright!
Fortified by my success I rounded up the kids and let Liam "drive" back to my mom's, just like my dad used to do with me. (country living, dirt roads, nothing but cows and grass).
"Now we can wash the car" I shouted with a sort of gleeful mania that made them all agree to help because they were afraid of my reaction if they didn't.
This was the good part. Sweaty, bruised, bleeding, blistered, and exhausted, with an uncompleted list, I had the time of my life having water fights with the kids and washing the van the old fashioned way with sloppy wet slaps of warm sudsy water.
Later, drinking a margarita on the porch while the tub filled with hot water I felt really good...but also really humbled.
Who was I to think I could fill Man shoes...shoes that boys spend all those years growing into? I'm not a man...I'm just barely a lad. A momlad.
Start something you can't finish. No list.
Enjoy the journey while being happy with a minimum of accomplishments.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Roll With It
This morning I was awakened at 6:30 by a frantic pounding at my window.
On school days my neighbor goes to work really early, so her boys come over and stare at the television without speaking until the school bus comes. This has been our routine for years. They knock, I answer and they shuffle in wordlessly, sometimes taking offerings of food but mostly just becoming immobile pieces of furniture on the sofa.
When the knocking began I assumed they had gotten confused, like small animals after the change of seasons who sometimes wander out of their burrows into the snow when they should be sleeping.
Instead I found my teenage daughter blinking rapidly in the sunlight. "Everybody locked me out." she said.
And that is when I remembered my vow of spontaneity this weekend and the reason my daughter was coming home sleepless early in the morning.
I've been lamenting my organized weekends so my buddies (we're "like this" man) over at Dad Blogs have been suggesting that I stop "planning " things. One suggested I be a catalyst for good times and not the organizer.
Catalyst like catalytic converter...like flux capacitor?! See I talk dad.
Now I am trying to walk it.
So this weekend Spontaneity was my game. I just let the kids dictate. So we played musical soccer (This was my son's idea, and sometimes I wonder if his future doesn't include h'orderves.) And we danced.
And then just to get our testosterone flowing we played "hunter" which meant that we took turns being animals (Picture a deer with hand antlers) and shooting each other. Isabel was the most bloodthirsty... if you can remember that scene in T2 where Linda Hamilton is doing the one handed cocking and shooting thing at the Terminator, you've got a pretty clear picture of my youngest daughter.
And we had pillow fights and played tag and ran in the yards...and all sorts of kid stuff.
Fallon's boyfriend graduated from high school in the middle of all this unchecked play and so we dusted ourselves off and watched him walk in his cap and gown (Graduations by the way are totally boring, especially for two momdad weekend kids in go mode.) After the graduation Fallon was invited to go on a school sponsored trip to a neighboring town for the whole night. The plan was that they would all play arcade games, (or what ever they call them these days) and swim, and hang out without sleeping, and be returned safely the next morning at 6:30.
Fallon's a good kid...and so is her boyfriend and, well, the school chaperones watch the kids with the attentiveness of hyenas waiting for their turn...and most of all I Am Spontaneous... So I let her go. And she came back safe (although I suspect and energy drink or two) and whole, and happy.
I learned two things ...kids will do a whole lot more given free reign than you could ever schedule for them...and it's a lot more fun to just let the moment take you...even if it takes you to musical soccer and brings you home sleepless the next morning.
Let your children take the lead. This could be as simple as following a drawing they are doing. (My three year old loves this game, when I imitate what she is doing it makes her feel important.), or you could just let them dictate the day. You might be surprised by how much fun they really are without your interference.
Have another house key made.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Something Naked This Way Comes
Anyone with children over the age of one is familiar with the phenomenon of the defiantly naked child. You probably have one of them... The child that disrobes in the grocery story while you pick cereal. The child that appears beside you in his birthday suit when you open the door for the UPS man. The child that isn't allowed to visit the grandparents until she decides to wear something more than socks on her hands.
I feel your pain.
My teenager daughter is kind of weird, she does everything by the book, so she was not good as any sort of preparedness training for the ones that came after her. She never cried, liked baths, brushed her teeth, never had a temper tantrum, and kept her clothes on.
The next two arrived "normal". They screamed, they spit, they bit, they played with poop, and they both had a dedication to erratic statement making nudity that hasn't been seen since Haight-Ashbury in the sixties.
Liam was constantly being sighted naked in the yard peeing behind a tree. (The tree thing a trick he learned from his Texan grandpa.) Fallon used to dread coming home on the school bus because invariably her two year old brother was out in the yard at one with nature. The school bus driver referred to the stop as "The one by that naked kid's house".
A year or so later he spent less time in the yard but was more inclined to strip without warning in public. Most memorably he removed his dragon costume in Walmart on Halloween, offering the full monty to the greeters and all the children begging candy.
He outgrew this tendency when his sister Isabel, a natural born competitor, got old enough to give him a run for his money.
She was so dedicatedly manically, obsessively naked that we feared for her job opportunities later in life. Still at the age of three she takes off everything the minute we hit the front door on our way back from errands, and she has to be maneuvered into anything more than a pair of panties as deftly as a SWAT team disarms a bomb.
I have heard other parents talk of this problem, but my children took it to such heights that I wondered if maybe I was doing something wrong. I mean I loved watching Saturday morning cartoons in my underoos as a kid but I never peed in the yard.
So I looked into it and this is what I learned.
It is estimated that humans have been wearing clothing for 650,000 years.
In a 1995 review of the literature, Paul Okami concluded that there was no reliable evidence linking exposure to parental nudity to any negative effect. Three years later, his team finished an 18-year longitudinal study that showed that, if anything, such exposure was associated with slight beneficial effects, particularly for boys.
In modern Liberia soldiers under"General Butt Naked" Joshua Blahyi, fought naked in order to terrorize their opponents.
Most doctors refer to the habit of young children undressing as "perfectly normal" although one Ph D did allude to the potential problem of "tactile defensiveness", whatever that is.
Child therapist Kimberly Clayton Blaine says, “It’s perfectly normal for toddlers to undress themselves and resist clothing-it’s just a way to assert their independence from Mom and Dad and show they have their own opinions and abilities”. This is the age when toddlers just want to be independent and test their boundaries.
So it seems to be a control issue...maybe this means my children just needed to assert themselves a bit more than others.
Certainly asserting oneself through nudity can only be healthy right?
I have opinions and abilities. Am I suppressing them by wearing clothes? Am I giving my kids a complex by keeping myself covered? Am I damaging them by being self conscience about the naked human body, bodies that they so freely and joyfully parade around in?
I have to admit I envy their freedom sometimes. It does feel good to run around naked feeling the sun and wind on every inch of tender exposed flesh. How do I teach them that the body is wonderful and perfectly agreeable...until it isn't?
One Stanford University study from the 1980s found that children in the United States develop a sense of modesty somewhere between the ages of 4 and 8 (and sooner for kids with an older sibling to emulate). So it seems that we have an innate need for privacy that arises about the time it is prudent to have it.
So until that awareness creeps in, neither their nudity or yours should be a cause for concern.
Maybe all I need to do is remember the joy of fewer rules and a body that I am comfortable living in, with or without clothes.
So if you look out your windows this weekend you probably won't see me running through the grass in the altogether, but if you knock on the door, you might just catch me watching cartoons in my underwear.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The Tribe and I just love gadgets...so we thought each week we'd share some of our favorites with you. If you know any I should share send them along. I've tried to be fun and practical, and all of these are kid friendly.
Fallon has a thing for bubble wrap. If you're like her and spend the months between holidays longing for packaging, here's how to get your fix. Annoying and addicting...perfect!
You can find more of this weeks gadgets and their codes HERE
Fallon has a thing for bubble wrap. If you're like her and spend the months between holidays longing for packaging, here's how to get your fix. Annoying and addicting...perfect!
You can find more of this weeks gadgets and their codes HERE
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Every week I'll give you five easy ideas to get your juices flowing. They will be mostly free and always less than twenty dollars.
You can do with your kids
1. Build a blanket fort.
Get out some clothespins, rubberbands, sheets, blankets, pillows, chairs, and tables. We recommend this during stormy weather with the addition of hot chocolate.
2. Drive West for five miles
Get out your compass and show them how the west was won. Stop at the file mile point. Nothing there?...have a picnic. See a store you've never been to?..stop in. Pick up litter and explain the importance of it. Visit a five mile neighbor. Sit and draw what you see.
3. Find a bug in the grass.
Spend some time getting acquainted.
4. Let your kids take pictures with your camera.
Let them call the shots.
5. Rent a movie at the red box
Pop some corn, drink Koolaid, hang
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Tips, tricks, and industry insights for professional Momdads.
Do try this at home.
How to Cruise on a Skateboard
Skateboards are cool...everybody wants to be that kid cruising effortlessly down the sidewalk, hair ruffled in the wind, big grin on his face. Here's how you can get your little guy or gal on the board and moving.
Start slow and work your way up. Be sure to use a helmet, knee and elbow pads, gloves, and long sleeves. Practice in a debris free sidewalk or parking lot...somewhere free of pedestrians and vehicles.. Start by having your child step onto the board with the foot they feel most comfortable with. Kick with the other foot to propel the board forward. (If you step up with your right kick the ground with your left).
Once she's comfortable with this move and can zip along at a reasonable pace, it's time to cruise. Have her put her right foot up on the board behind her left foot at a 45 degree angle. Then have her adjust her left foot until it's parallel with the right one. When she's in the correct position she'll be standing on the board sideways. For balance have her bend her knees slightly and lean forward. To turn she should lean slightly in the direction she wants to go. Have her lean with her hips(not from her waist). When she wants to get off the board, she simply jumps off in the direction she's facing. To keep from losing her balance, she needs to land on the ground at a run.
Once she can cruise on the level, it's time to coast down a hill. Remember she has to learn everything gradually.
Find a gently sloping hill that looks safe (no nearby traffic or walls to run into). Have her mount the board and bend her knees slightly. Make sure she looks ahead and doesn't just stare at her feet. For balance she should keep her arms forward in front of her body and her weight centered on the board. If she starts coasting too fast, she can slow down by leaning slightly from side to side with her hips and running down the hill in a zig zag pattern, much as a skier slaloms down a mountain slope.
That's it! Now all you have to do is build on the fundamentals with a lot of practice. And you are now the coolest Momdad in the land.
Skateboarding requires an agile body and mind. It teaches quick thinking on your feet. In this fast paced world that's a good skill for anybody to know.
*skateboarding instructions excerpted from 101 secrets a Cool Mom Knows by Sue Ellin Browder and Walter Browder
Monday, May 11, 2009
Whew! this is really starting to seem like a full time job.
What did I learn this weekend? Let's see...I learned I really really like running water...but I could do without lights. I learned that we are not always safe even though we pretend we are, and that every moment should be savored like a big cheesy oniony chili dog.
I learned that snakes can fall out of trees, frogs make good pets, neighbors really can be neighborly, and even if you can't tell a good story, anything shared around a campfire is just what you want it to be.
This experiment is slowly becoming a way of life, and though I guard against doing anything mommish on the weekends I am finding that a little dadding sneaks into my weekdays. I am having more fun with my children.
I am no longer sure who I am doing this for..them, me, the audience that is following us (and are they moms or dads or both)? Maybe all of us have something to gain.
So with that in mind I am launching a more user friendly momdad blog...with tips, and gadgets, and movie/ book/ game/ and toy reviews..and stuff like that. But most importantly I don't want to lose the heart and soul of this project which is about developing the best traits of both mothers and fathers, and looking for a way to really connect with the kids in the middle of mixed messages, blended families, and busy lives.
Bear with me as I organize and look forward to good times to come.