Raising a well-rounded kid

It was a simple request. “Daddy, can I borrow your phone to record a video for a school project?” And to think I almost deleted this gem. It wasn’t the video he ended up choosing for his project, and there were 6 or 7 other false starts, so I was in the process of deleting them and then…whoa.

Sometimes you are impressed with your child’s athletic prowess. Other times you might be surprise by their level of cognitive ability at such a young age. Then every once in a while you see something that you were not expecting, a total surprise, something you didn’t think your child was capable of.

And with that context, I encourage you watch Grady’s ‘deleted scene’. And while there is a short intermission about halfway through for a musical change, he comes back strong for a second act.

Watching your Mom or Dad Get Married

Excited. That was the word I heard from Claire and Grady when they found out I asked Krista to marry me last fall. Over the next few months though, the real questions started coming my way.  Is she moving into our house? Is Evan moving in too? Does that mean he will be our step-brother? Can I still sleep in your bed at night when I’m scared?

At the heart of it, kids want to feel safe, secure, and loved. They don’t choose to get divorced, share time between their parents, or explain to their friends why having two houses really isn’t that great.

For Evan, the change was even more profound.  A new house? Having my quiet morning time disrupted by two new siblings? Can I bring all my toys? They better not play with my toys!

Getting married again was the easy part. Krista and I experience life in the same stride. We have those unspoken moments together; a look, a mutual feeling, then acknowledgement through smiles.  I know that we will get through anything and everything together as a couple, and I love sharing our life adventures together.

Blending a family? That’s the tricky part. For us, it was important to involve the kids in the wedding. We chose a small wedding at an out of town destination resort so they would have memories of the weekend away. We decided to have Clare and Grady walk me down the aisle, while Evan walked Krista down the aisle. And we also created vows specifically from the two of us to all three kids as part of the ceremony.

There will be many ups and downs over the next few years, perhaps not unlike any other family of five, blended or otherwise. And I think we got off to a great start during our wedding this past May. After the ceremony when Krista and I walked up the stairs, we knew the kids would be following closely behind.  And in true unscripted fashion, all three kids locked hands as they made their way up the stairs.  Their three smiling faces when they reached the top will be forever etched in our memories.  This is our new life, and we couldn’t be any happier!


Making Memories

Taking your kids to Disney, isn’t that the trip that every parent has on their parenting bucket list? Well, the thought process changes when you get divorced. My priorities adjusted to make sure the kids felt safe, secure, and loved.  Ideas like Disney suddenly seemed less important. And seeing friends post their family vacations on Facebook didn’t exactly raise feelings of jealousy. Rather they reminded me of more pressing real-life parental duties, like preparing for my fiancee and future stepson moving into my house.

As Yogi Berra once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” My parents had finalized their move to Florida, and I decided to take Claire and Grady to visit them in February.  They live less than two hours from Orlando.  There’s the fork.  So it was quickly decided that the three of us would take a quick two day trip to visit Disneyworld while we were there.

Queue the Google searches.  Where to stay in Disney, which rides were good for a single parent with two children, which parks to visit. During this time, Claire was obsessed with the Harry Potter books, reading them every chance she had. It didn’t take long in my research to similarly realize that Universal Studios had a Harry Potter world. Another fork.  Take it.

We spent a wonderful first day at the Magic Kingdom, exactly how you remembered it as a child. And experiencing it through the eyes of a seven and nine year old was truly magical (no, I couldn’t think of a better word to describe it).

However I wasn’t prepared for the wizardly magic that enveloped us the following day.  For a seven year old boy well versed in cartoons and superheroes, a nine year old wannabe Hogwarts student, and my penchant for thrill rides and rollercoasters, Universal Studios surpassed any and every expectation. 

When you get divorced, the parenting bucket list doesn’t and shouldn’t go away.  It simply changes shape and takes on a new form. And now that I’m happily remarried, I look forward to the day when our family of five can take a trip to Florida where Harry Potter World will be on the must-visit list for all three kids. Life is full of forks. 

Take them all if you can.

“If you can’t stay quiet, get out of the car and walk home!”

This one isn’t in the parenting guidebook and you won’t see an article on this topic in Parenting magazine.  Maybe your parents did this to you (my Mom sure did) or maybe you’ve already experienced this yourself as a parent.  If not, here are five lessons on how to discipline your noisy, annoying kids by pulling over to the side of the road and yelling, “Get out of the car and walk home!”


1. Choose age appropriate kids.  Kids five and younger are simply too young, not to mention you might be breaking state law if you allow your four year old to walk home alone.  Twelve year olds and older?  Be careful.  You risk being challenged by your smart-ass kids or they might even walk home and enjoy it.

2. Do it close to home.  This is important since you have to be prepared to follow through on your threat.  If you can’t follow through, best of luck on preventing your future teenagers from walking all over you.

3. It’s the surprise that counts. The key here is to politely ask them to stop yelling and hitting each other a few times first.  If you have already been screaming, you’re not going to have the appropriate impact.

4. Slam those brakes. This is crucial to getting their attention, so pretend you’re about to run over a bunny rabbit.  You want the kids to feel the tug on their seat belt, it will quiet them up and get their attention.

5. Make it count. Only my kids and a few select others have heard my Dad voice.  You need to be loud and forceful, yet clearly in control with no hints of desperation or uncertainty.  Think drill sergeant;  check out the first 40 minutes of Full Metal Jacket for inspiration.

Well, I had my first opportunity to put these lessons into practice last week.  Did it work?  Brilliantly.  Three blocks from home, after asking my 8 and 6 year old a few times to quiet down, I slammed on my brakes, looked back and yelled, “Be quiet, or get out of the car and walk home!”

Immediate silence was followed by pleading. “We’ll be quiet Daddy, please can we stay in the car?”  And in an encore moment three days later, the kids were acting up again.  Then before I could say anything, Claire uttered, “Stop it Grady.  I don’t want to have to walk home.”

Mission accomplished.

Hitting a home run in life

Image-1Claire achieved a milestone last night at gymnastics, her first successful round-off, back handspring combination with zero assistance from her instructor. What did she do next? She did it twice more, each one looking easier than the last. Ours eye met through the glass wall that separates parents from gymnasts, big smiles on both sides. And I’ll admit, my eyes became a bit watery. She was very proud of her accomplishment, and so was I, yet for different reasons.

For me, it’s not about gymnastics or whether she’ll qualify for the Champions level classes this winter. My focus and admiration comes from the life lessons she’s learning and how this will help her grow into a happy, confident, well-balanced, hard-working, humble, and independent adult. I mean, isn’t that the purpose of parenting? At only 8 years old, Claire is learning skills like:
* Work ethic – Nobody walks out on the gymnastics mat and nails a back handspring on their first try. She learned that by working hard and practicing (yes, you will see her doing cartwheels in my kitchen or down the aisles at Target stores), she will see improvement in her performance.
* Perseverance – She fell down, tripped, slipped, tumbled, grumbled, scowled, and cringed more times than I can count.  But I bet I know how she would answer if I had asked her last night whether the effort was worth it.
* Reaching a goal – You can’t reach a goal that you don’t first set for yourself.  Claire had watched for years as the older girls gracefully moved across the gym.  It was an important milestone years in the making, difficult to achieve, yet realistic with perseverance and hard work.

At work, achievement orientation is a competency that we measure in our tests that clients use for hiring employees.  We define it as: Establishing and accomplishing challenging goals or standards despite adversity, obstacles and effort required.  Now think about that definition in terms of your child’s education, career, future relationships with a spouse, family and friends, giving back to society or anything else they set their mind to.  The skills that Claire is learning are the building blocks of achievement orientation.  It’s not about the success itself, rather the path taken to reach it.  The beauty of achievement orientation is that it can be internally contagious.  A successful back handspring can generate the confidence to try out for the lead part in the school play, solve that last math problem after the fourth attempt, or have a difficult conversation with a friend.

So the next time you watch your kids’ hockey or baseball game, focus less on the goals scored, if they are good enough to make next year’s traveling team, or whether they bring home the first place trophy.  Those are surface-level accomplishments.  You really shouldn’t care if they hit a home run in the game; you are setting the stage as a parent so that they will hit a home run in life.

My (6 year old) son is slowly becoming a man

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my daughter.  At eight years old, she still wants me to cuddle in bed with her.  Hugs and kisses are mandatory for goodbyes.  And she still loves ponies, princesses and everything pink.  However, whether Dads publicly admit to it or not, most of us wanted a son so we could show him how to fish, hit a curve ball, and toss a football around in the backyard.

Grady turned six this spring.  And while he still shows his immaturity at times, he flashes qualities from time to time that confirm he is growing into a man.  Take Father’s Day for example.  I took Grady golfing along with my Dad where he showed us quite a bit that day.

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Once a guy has his mind set on something, we stick with it, don’t we?  Well this wasn’t par 30 executive golf, rather a full length 18 hole, 4+ hour round of golf.  He’s hit a few golf balls before, and we even played 9 holes at a practice facility a few weeks earlier, but I never expected him to last 18 holes.  My mom was on call to pick him up after the first nine, thinking he would be ready to call it a day.  But instead of a PB&J and Cheetos lunch with Grandma, Grady said he wanted to finish.  Between taking tee shots, hanging around on the golf cart, shooting a few fairway shots and putting every green, he hung around for all 18.

Male embellishment

This is a required trait for all guys.  That fish we caught last summer? It grew three inches and two pounds over the winter.  That girl we met one weekend during Mardi Gras in college?  Total supermodel by today’s standards.  On the 12th green, Grady dropped his ball about 30 feet from the hole and started his process of hitting 10 or 15 fifteen putts toward the hole before calling out his score of “7” for the scorecard.  Only this time he hit it hard and directly toward the hole.  With the rest of us watching, it dropped right into the cup which prompted a burst of cheers and high fives.  The proud smile on his face was priceless.  And when we got home, he couldn’t wait to tell his big sister about his ‘Ace’ (golf lingo for a hole-in-one).

Observant

How do you celebrate your first 18 holes of golf?  With a visit to the 19th hole of course!  Grady and I grabbed a sandwich at the clubhouse bar with a Sprite for him, a beer for me.  We sat there enjoying our refreshments, quietly reflecting on our well hit golf shots from the morning, when Grady nudged me hard on my shoulder.  “Daddy, look at that sign!  Free beer tomorrow.  We should come back tomorrow and play golf and you can have free beer!”  Now that’s what I’m talking about, Grady.  You’re on the right path to becoming a man.51DgAMAs5yL._SY355_

Daddy, her face is creepy

Young kids have the best lines, you know those unscripted moments when they say something out of the blue and you nearly snort red wine out of your nose?

Well before I share what 6 year old Grady said last week, allow me to set the stage. It was a guys night through and through.  I had leftover rib eye and prime rib from arguably the best steakhouse in town and I was online researching the best way to reheat the steaks without losing the tender medium-rare centers.

Grady was growing impatient with my approach to dinner so he asked if he could watch AC/DC videos on the television.  Yes, he’s a six year old AC/DC fan and I just so happen to have their DVD box set. He could even watch Highway to Hell this night, since his older sister wasn’t around to admonish him for listening to the “H” word.

Fast forward thirty minutes and we’re both happily devouring our steaks.  I let Grady keep the videos playing all through dinner with the sound turned up.  And we progressed through the Back in Black album of videos to a few lesser known songs with videos created for the MTV generation instead of raw concert footage.

The scene is the inside of a bar, and this 80’s rocker chick with tight leather pants, big hair, and an overdose of makeup comes strutting through the door.

Grady is staring intently at the screen and without moving eyes, comments: “Daddy, her face is creepy…but her body is really cool.”

  

Religious freedom, mass murder, Passover and the Easter bunny.

It’s the day after April Fools and unfortunately the news headlines are far from funny.  There is an overload of hullabaloo around a new religious freedom law that passed recently in Indiana.  I really don’t care what the CEO of a company in California thinks about a law 2,000 miles away.  Just another example of the ‘twitter outrage of the month’ syndrome that unfortunately affects how we think about the world’s current events.  If we focused on simply treating each other with dignity and respect, we wouldn’t need to concern ourselves about these laws or lack of them.

And on a more horrific scale comes news out of Kenya where nearly 150 were murdered on a college campus.  The terrorist group from Somalia who claimed responsibility specifically targeted Christians, while allowing Muslims to go free.  It’s sick and unfortunate that we live in a world like this.  So add Kenya to the list of countries I’m unlikely to travel to (but would want to) in my lifetime, due to the safety and security as a visiting tourist.

Both stories highlight the differences in religious beliefs in our society and how they impact us.  But religion doesn’t define a person, it never has.  Religion can give you a set of beliefs, a moral compass, but they do not create bigotry or hatred.  Unfortunately people hide behind their religion as a reason for their prejudices or as a justification for murder.

What does this have to do with my blog on parenting?  Because my kids are starting to explore their religious beliefs, so it’s been on my mind lately.  Personally, I was baptized as an infant and that’s where my religious training ended.  If solely up to me, I would be happy to help my kids develop a set of moral beliefs without aligning to a specific religion.  My ex-wife is Jewish, so the kids have had exposure to both Christian and Jewish holidays.  Recently, when my daughter wanted to learn more about God, the kids started going to weekend classes at the local synagogue.  2013-happy-easter-happy-passover-whatever-you-L-eQHy5a

What do I hope for them to learn?  How to be the best humans they can be.  How to be tolerant of others and their beliefs, open-minded, and treat everyone with respect.  They will both celebrate Passover and receive a visit from the Easter bunny this weekend.  I guess it’s one small step for religious tolerance…I only hope others can learn from their example.

This is my simple religion.  There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own heart is our temple:  The philosophy is kindness.

– Dalai Lama

The real morning rush hour – Eggo waffles

My commute into downtown Minneapolis averages 35 minutes a day, and well over an hour if the snow is flying.  There are accidents, car-pool lanes, road rage inducing drivers and of course all those people glancing down at their smartphones while trying to avoid a rear-end collision.  My favorites?  The women putting on make-up while driving.  Guys with handheld shavers trimming their beards.  The handful of people I’ve seen with a newspaper spread across the steering wheel.  And that one lady holding a spoon in one hand with her bowl of cereal or yogurt in her other hand.

Ironically, commuting is the most relaxing part of my morning.  I have a comfy car, good music playing, and after ten years of the same commute, I know all the tricks and exactly when to shift to the right lane after passing highway 100.  The real rush hour is before I leave the house, during the weeks where I have the kids and I’m outnumbered.  1 dad, 2 kids and 1 dog.

After letting the dog outside quickly, I squeeze in a shower and get dressed before waking the kids.  Grady is usually up and watching Netflix before I’m out of the shower while Claire is a future ‘alarm clock snooze button addict’ requiring me to literally pull her out of bed some mornings.  The kids dress themselves, and my only goal is to ensure Claire attempts to brush her hair (of course she doesn’t let me touch her hair) and that Grady puts clean underwear on (weekly laundry proves this out as I sometimes see only two dirty pair a week).  Breakfast is less of a meal and more of a 100 yard dash to ensure they get something in their tummies before heading out to the bus stop.  On a good day, it’s cheesy scrambled eggs, toast and raspberries. On a bad day, Eggo waffles or microwaved frozen eggopancakes, spoiled milk, and moldy strawberries ending up in the trash.  I guzzle down a cup of coffee and choke down a peanut buttered bagel while the dog eats and the kids find any excuse not to eat.  Then it’s time to round up the backpacks with a snack, their folders and an overdue library book or two.  It’s a whirlwind rush to get shoes and jackets on, head out to the bus stop where I happily send them on their way.

Finally it’s time for my morning respite – my alone time – my morning commute.

Coaching youth sports – it’s about the kids, not the coach

bnbCoaching youth sports is a fun, rewarding experience.  I know firsthand from coaching baseball in the 90’s for kids ranging in age from 13 to 18.  It included players who ended up playing big time college ball, all-star games, league and state championships, and one team that might have won three games all summer.  If not for the time commitment conflicting with my boating and golfing priorities (not to mention being in my mid 20’s and single), I would have continued to coach – I really enjoyed it.

Fast-forward 15 years and Grady is starting his first coach-pitch baseball league this summer after a couple of years of tee-ball.  Two years ago, I told myself that I was not going to coach my kids’ sports.  I wanted to simply be a cheerleader and enjoy watching them play.  Sure, I would be happy to help Grady with his swing in the backyard or play catch with him until it’s too dark to see the ball.  But when it came to the team and his games, I was happy as a spectator.

Why didn’t I want to coach?  Well, that’s a complicated answer that deserves its own blog but I suppose it’s a combination of things.  I saw some poor dad-coaches throughout my years of coaching.  I also dealt with some difficult parents as a coach, and I’m told those problems are much worse today.  My dad coached my baseball teams through little league and I never could be sure if I was the starting shortstop because of my talent or because coach was my dad.

Well this year, my plans changed.  Not because my feelings changed about coaching; rather something Grady asked me last month.  “Daddy, when are you going to be our coach?  I want you to be one of the coaches.”  It immediately hit me that it wasn’t about me.  Grady wanted me to coach, wanted me to wear the coaching shirt and hat.  How do you say no to a kindergartner when he asks you that?

So I volunteered to be on the coaching staff this year.  And viewing it through Grady’s eyes instead of my own, I know that I made the right decision.