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.

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.

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

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.

“Daddy, just Google it on your phone!”

Technology.  It invades our world in every possible way.  Some applications are a welcome addition our ever-evolving, increasingly non-verbal, staring-at-our-phones way of live.  Instant weather forecasts?  Much better than calling the time and temperature phone number (and if you remember that number, you were definitely born before 1980).  Real-time fantasy football scores?  One of the best innovations of the 21st century.

Earlier this week I received an email from my kids’ school district to announce a new mobile application.  This one displays the school bus on a map, showing where it is and updating the scheduled drop-off or pick-up time every 1 to 2 minutes.  On the surface it might sound pretty cool, watch the little bus logo on our phones while we are huddled with the other parents at the bus stop (or idling in our cars) so we know exactly when the bus will arrive.

School-Bus-S

Seriously, do we really need this?  The buses are nearly always there within a few minutes of the scheduled time.  And what if they are running late one day?  I don’t know what’s worse:  whether the district decided to spend money and time on this or whether there was enough demand from parents to search for a solution.  It’s absolutely OK to have unknowns and uncertainty in life.  Isn’t that how we learn how to deal with adversity in a nutshell?  I know, it’s only a bus app…big deal.  But think about this as you extrapolate the possibilities of technology and how it relates to your kids, school, and your parenting obligations to raise a well-rounded child.

Why not have an app that sends pictures of your kid’s schoolwork as they are graded?  Or what about a recess-webcam so you can see if Billy is playing with that neighbor kid who you think is a bad influence?  Wouldn’t it be cool to see what Madison purchased in the lunch line in real time and block her access to purchasing snack foods for the remainder of the week?  No, no and NO.

Parenting is reviewing your child’s homework when she brings it home.  Parenting is asking about your kids’ friends at the dinner table and teaching them about positive and negative influences from their peers.  Parenting is allowing them to make smart decisions on their own, not because you can check up on them.

Parenting is about preparing your kids for real life, for the unknowns and for the unexpected.  We all survived just fine without smartphones and in some cases are better off for it.  I fear sometimes for our children with their dependence on technology and learned behavior of retrieving information on demand.  So maybe the next time your son or daughter has a question about something and asks you to Google it on your phone, you can respond, “Figure it out on your own.”

Introducing my 5 year old to his first rated R movie

Grady and I have been watching old 80’s movies over the past few months.  Some of the classics we have watched include Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gremlins, E.T., Honey I Shrunk the Kids and The Great Outdoors.  All of these are PG-rated and Grady loved them all.   Claire, not so much.  After 15 minutes of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, she stormed off to her room stating, “Daddy, I’m sick of watching movies that you liked when you were growing up!”

I’m aware that a PG rating in 1981 is different that we would consider a PG movie today, but it didn’t bother me as a parent.  Most of the scenes and language are harmless, although The Great Outdoors pushed the envelope with at least one ‘sh$t’ and an ‘a$$hole’ comment.   For those of you younger than 30, the PG-13 rating didn’t exist until 1984, inspired by movies like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Up until then, PG rated movies included a wider spectrum of violence, language and adult situations.  Did you know the original Jaws is rated PG?

This past weekend, our movie of choice was Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a classic 80’s comedy with Steve Martin and John Candy.  Grady saw a promo of the movie on TV, recognized John Candy from the Great Outdoors, and wanted to watch another movie with that “funny fat guy” in it.  So we fired up some microwave popcorn, turned down the lights and sat down for a few laughs.

The movie is going along swimmingly, Grady is laughing along with me, and nothing inappropriate for what I thought was another one of our 80’s PG movies.  Then came the car rental counter scene.  If you know the movie, you’ll recall it.  For some reason, I didn’t remember what was about to unfold.  Maybe because I saw the theatrical release in the 80’s, and only have since seen the edited-for-TV version since.  Well, here is the scene:

Yep.  19 separate F-bombs in under a minute.  No chance of receiving the father-of-the-week award this time.  The next day a simple Google search would confirm that Planes, Trains and Automobiles is in fact a rated R movie.  Oops.  With Steve Martin’s tirade in full swing, Grady was sitting on my lap, I didn’t know where the remote was, and in the middle of everything I decided that trying to plug his ears would only draw attention to the situation and make it worse (or maybe because I was laughing too hard that it impacted my common sense).  So I waited it out.  Silence from the little guy.  Did he miss it?  Was he nodding off?  Suddenly he turned his head toward me.  “Daddy, what does f*cking mean?”

Teaching your kids to lie?

I still remember the days of teething kids with their related fevers and unexplained vomiting incidents. The kids weren’t really sick; it’s just part of the normal toddler development. Enter the local accredited, award-winning daycare provider. There are black and white rules around sick kids, and they understandably exist for a reason. No kids with a temperature over 100. Kids must be vomit-free for 24 hours before returning to day care.

Did I fudge these guidelines? Yep. Did I lie one time when asked if Claire hadn’t vomited within 24 hours? Yes, I did. Did I feel guilty? Not really. My ex and I knew our kids better than anyone else. And we didn’t feel like we were putting anyone else at a health risk, which is the primary purpose of the guidelines. Two working parents with young kids is a tough period and I have empathy for others in this situation. Unexpectedly taking a day off or working from home (if you even have a job that allows you to) is not always an easy solution.

I consider myself a pretty conscientious person, but also pragmatic. So while I appreciate all the parenting laws and guidelines out there, I feel that my own common sense and instincts are still important in how I parent. However, if last Sunday’s scenario is any indication, I may have to rethink my approach. A seven year-old is much more aware than an 18 month old!

Claire – “Don’t I have to be 8 before I can sit without my booster seat?”
Me – “It’s a short drive, you’ll be ok.” (as I recall never wearing a seat-belt, let alone a car seat while growing up)
Claire – “But what if the police pull us over?”
Me – “We can tell them you’re 8 if they ask.”
Claire – “You want me to lie to the police?”

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Reggie joins the fray and life changes again

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Just when life slipped into a nice comfort zone, I go out and do something to completely disrupt the balance in my universe. I’m no longer transitioning into my divorced phase; it’s my new status quo. The kids are doing well and I’ve evolved my work-life balance into a good spot. I have an amazing girlfriend who I absolutely adore and I’ve fortunately taken some fun trips this year.

So then I get sucked in by a local dog rescue Facebook page and two weeks ago brought home a spunky little golden retriever/terrier mix who we named Reggie. No more spontaneous happy hours after work. No more sleeping in on the weekends. Quick trips to the driving range or gym are replaced by visits to the dog park. Alone time when the kids are at their Mom’s house are now spent with a shadow following my every move. Oh, and the weather’s been brutal…so much for nice evening walks through the neighborhood.

Those who know me are aware I rarely make spontaneous decisions and this was no exception. I’ve wanted for years to have a dog as the kids grow up. The kids have been asking to have a dog at least weekly for the past year. And while I enjoyed the extra free time that comes with a divorced/shared-parenting schedule, I’m happy to ‘ground’ myself around a puppy’s needs.

‘Tis the season to be thankful and there is a lot to be thankful for in my life. Most of all, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be a Dad for my two kids and now Reggie.IMG_0893

Daddy, can you wear a tiger eye?

Car conversations with the kids are always interesting.  I have them captive and due to a self-imposed rule of no DVDs, iPods or other video screens in the car*, we have plenty of time to talk.  However sometimes we simply enjoy listening to a little music as I continue my quest to ensure their love of classic 70’s rock and selected 80’s bands like Hall and Oates and AC/DC.  A few days ago the below conversation actually took place.

* The exception to the no-electronics rule is road trips over 2 hours, I’m not that crazy.

Scene – returning home from Claire’s gymnastics practice with Survivor’s, “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background.  Claire is 7 and Grady is 5 years old.tigereye

G: “What’s the eye of the tiger, Daddy?”

Me: “Well, it’s about being focused and ready for whatever you are practicing for, like a big game.”

C: “Who has the eye of the tiger?”

Me: “The guy singing the song, he has the eye of the tiger.”

C: “Is it a real tiger?”

Me: “No.  He sees like a tiger.”

G: “Daddy, does he look like a tiger?”

Me: “Umm, no.  Tigers have good eyes, so he’s focused on what he’s doing, like a tiger would.”

C:  “So is he wearing the eye of a tiger, like on a necklace?”

G:  “What if he has the eye of lion?”

Me:  “Hey kids…”

G: “Does he have just one eye?”

C: “Did he steal the eye from a tiger?”

Me: “KIDS!  Can we just listen and enjoy the song?”

C: “Ok.”

G: “But what is the eye of the tiger?….”