April 19, 2007

A lesson for my children

To my son and daughter,

This week, my little ones, a very angry man took the lives of 32 innocent young men and women at a university in Virginia. I wish that I could explain why or how something like this could happen but when things like this happen, it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason. Even saying it’s “God’s plan” seems hollow.

What I do know is that as I read about the unfulfilled promise of so many, all I could think about was you. It is times like this that push home the stark reality that I will not always be around to protect you from all the bad, angry people of this world. As hard as I pray and as tightly as I hold on, I know deep down that I cannot be there for you all of the time.

As I read about this tragedy I think of the parents of these victims and how they must feel. How they must feel knowing they will never feel the embrace of their only son or the beautiful smile of their youngest daughter. I cannot imagine the despair and anguish these parents are feeling but I do know that were something to happen to you, life as I know it would end.

As you grow and become more aware of your surroundings my hope is that I can prepare you on how to deal with the bad, angry people you may encounter in your life. I hope to teach you to turn the other cheek when accosted. I hope to teach you that being alive tomorrow is more important than being arrogant today. I hope to teach you to pick your friends wisely.

But none of those lessons would have saved these 32 beautiful people whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I want you to know something now – and you will learn more about this as you get older, I’m sure. But I feel very strongly that guns are not the answer to a safer society. While I am a proud, patriotic American who understands why our forefathers insisted on the right to bear arms in our constitution, I feel that this “right” has turned very, very wrong.

It is because of the right to bear arms that I worry about you, Monk, being shot and killed by a gang member because you happened to be wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood as happens three or four times a year near where I work. It is because of our right to bear arms that I worry, Swee’Pea, that you could be assaulted in ways no Daddy wants to imagine happening to his daughter.

The old adage is that guns don’t kill people – people kill people. This is a gross simplization of a very complex problem that has been growing for generations. All I know is that this week 32 innocent people died because a crazy person was able to buy a gun in the same way I order flowers for your mother.

Because of this, I want you to understand the impact that guns have on people’s lives. Because of this impact you will never have a toy gun to play with. You will never see me holding a gun. And while there are many good, honest people out there who strongly disagree with me on the subject of gun ownership, I think the risk to our society far outweighs the good.

Anyway, tonight I say a prayer for the families of those whose lives were tragically lost. I also say a prayer for you, my little ones, that you be safe when you are far beyond your father’s grasp. I pray that you never know the horror of what these people had to endure and I pray that the America that your children live in will be a safer and more tolerant place than it is today.

I love you.


April 17, 2007

Learning through discipline

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 (inhale)
11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20 (inhale)

Multiple Choice Question:

What is the above most likely to be?

A) Us teaching Swee’Pea and TheMonk to count.
B) The amount of counting it takes to calm down when Sanjaya survives another week.
C) Me counting the number of Cheerios wedged between the cushions of our couch.
D) Timeouts in the Childsplayx2 household.

And the answer is…

Well, “C” is ruled out because there are waaaaay more than 30 Cheerios currently nesting within my couch. In the same vein, “B” is wrong because I need more than 30 seconds to overcome the anguish of having to watch Sanjaya for another week.

So that leaves “A” and “D”. And the answer is… both!

Yes, we have perfected the “Time Out” method of teaching. If you truly want to teach your kids to count at an early age, give them one a few a lot of timeouts while you count out the seconds of their punishment.

And while the timeouts will have very little effect on curbing hitting, screaming and throwing of tantrums, it apparently is very effective in teaching the ancient art of counting.

For proof we need only look to this evening. After dinner Swee’Pea and TheMonk begin bouncing a ball back and forth to each other – laughing out loud at the novelty of playing together with this bouncing ball. As Mommy and Daddy encourage and watch, Swee’Pea picks up the ball, cocks it at shoulder level and shouts, “One… Two… Fweeeeee!” as she releases the ball.

Caught off guard, Mommy and Daddy look at each other, not sure we just witnessed our 22-month-old count. As if to make sure there wasn’t any doubt, Swee’Pea picks up the ball once more and this time goes even further…. “One, Two, Fwee, Four, Five!” As she releases the ball once again.

“Are you counting, Swee’Pea?” I ask.

“One, Two, Fwee, Four, Five, Seben, Nine, Ten!” shouts our little girl.

While not quite sure what she has against six or eight, we are amazed at her ability to count. It seems she wasn’t just sulking in the corner while we counted out all those time outs. She was taking notes!

Time Out
Time Out

March 28, 2007

Hairy situation

We are sitting on the couch after reading a book before bedtime. Swee’Pea has successfully pointed out the banana on each and every page of the book. As Swee’Pea sits on Mommy’s lap she notices Mommy’s freshly washed, slightly damp hair and reaches out to touch it.

“Hair” says Swee’Pea.

“Yes, Swee’Pea. It’s Mommy’s clean hair.” Says Mommy, speaking in the mandatory third-person.

Knowing how Swee’Pea hates to have her hair washed, she continued, “Your hair gets long when you wash it, Swee’pea.”

As if on cue, Swee’pea reaches out to touch my hair as I am seated next to her with Monk on my lap. “Yeah, Daddy must not ever wash his hair, huh?” I laugh.

Swee’Pea continues to look for hair and she grabs my shirt to expose the hair on my chest. Then, she does the same for Mommy.

“No,” Mommy says, “Mommy doesn’t have hair there!”

And we’re both happy about that.

February 13, 2007

A truck by any other name

Remember the “Good Old Days?”

In the “Good Old Days” things were much simpler. For example, you only had to choose between Coke and 7-Up. McDonalds and Taco Bell were the only fast food places worth considering. You were either a Nike guy or a Reebok guy. And, finally, there were cars and there were trucks.

It is this last one that has me up in arms today. I mean, I’m just a guy trying to teach his kids words without confusing them too much. For example, when it comes to objects with multiple possbile words used to describe them, I don’t want to get too complicated. I say “bucket” (not “pail”). I’ll say “jacket” (but not “coat”) or I’ll say “beer” (and not “Colt 45″). I try to simplify things so my kids understand what the heck it is I’m talking about.

That’s why I have no idea what to do about SUV’s.

One of our favorite past times in the morning is we sit at the front window and we watch vehicles pass on by. Our neighbors have a pickup truck so I’ll say, “Look at the red truck, Monk!” Other neighbors have nice looking BMW’s and I’ll point out the “Shiny car, Swee’Pea!” And it’s a special treat when a school bus or a motorcycle happen upon us.

But I have no idea what to say when, inevitably, an SUV passes by.

Is it a car? Is it a truck? Will I confuse my kids to the point that they’ll go their whole lives not quite sure what to call the boxy, big vehicles with large black tires? Will this prevent them from scoring a perfect score on the SAT? Will my New York Times obituary mention the unfortunate SUV gaffe back in ’07?

And does SUV really have to be my children’s first acronym?


Of all the worries I have about parenting, this is what keeps me awake at night.

Man, this parenting thing is hard.

February 10, 2007

If you say so

Swee’Pea and TheMonk are talking like crazy. Literally. Crazy. I mean, while they are talking in full sentences – sometimes long, elaborate sentences – I can’t understand a single word they say.

Just today, TheMonk, pointing in the vicinity of the place where we hang our car keys, said something that sounded like this… “Ababdaada, eeeeuhhh ooooobidoooo ayiaaaaaah, keeeees.” My response? “Uh, yeah, Buddy. That sounds great. Whatever you want.”

That seemed to satisfy him and he went along his way.

I’m not sure, but I think I just promised him his own car.

February 5, 2007

Black History

So, the Superbowl was yesterday. Yet another sporting event that I didn’t get to watch in its entirety due to having kids. I used to be a big sports fan. Back in the day (pre-June 2005) I would actually watch an entire day of football game without having to wipe butts, feed hungry mouths or entertain two non-football-loving toddlers. But that isn’t what this post is about.

Yesterday, two African-American head coaches squared off in the Superbowl for the first time ever. Heck, it was the first time even one African-American had coached a team in the Superbowl so it was a historic occasion in a league that has been very slow to accept African-Americans in positions of leadership. This is important to me because I never forget that my children are 1/4 African-American. I don’t want my own children to forget that either. I want them to understand where they came from and how difficult it has been for those of African-American ancestry to get ahead in our society.

Truth be told, they will probably never experience the prejudice and hatred that many in our society do because of the color of their skin. By looking at Swee’Pea and TheMonk you would be hard pressed to pin an ethnic heritage on them. And I kinda like it that way. But by no means does it make who they are and where they come from any less significant. They are 1/4 African-American (along with 1/4 Mexican, some Native American and Caucasian) and all those backgrounds make up who they are. I can’t wait to teach them about those who came before them. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Marian Wright Edleman, Barack Obama, and Tony Dungy along with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Roberto Clemente, and Alberto Gonzales all paved the way for my children. I want them to respect who they are and those who came before them and know that it hasn’t been easy for people of color to succeed in this country. That we need to be a solution to inequality rather than a silent contributor. That we recognize all the good that comes from being different but still recognize that we are all the same.

As I progress into parenthood I find it easy to teach my children certain things. I can teach them to say please and thank you. I can teach them to feed themselves. I can even teach them to laugh at my stupid jokes. But the real challenge – the much more difficult aspect of parenting – is teaching them what to be rather than how to be. My hope is that someday my children will understand and love where they came from and that they will look upon those less fortunate than themselves and ask, “What can I do?” That alone will make me feel succesful as a parent.

For a great insight into what it’s like being an African-American parent today, I highly suggest you read African-American Dad.

February 3, 2007

Stop. It’s Potty Time?

Swee’Pea, for some time now, has understood the concept of bathroom. She learned the sign for it and would announce “bafroom” while waving her little fist in the air any time we passed by one of the bathrooms in our house. Adding to this understanding, she has begun to tell us when she has gone “poo-poo” and will ask to have her diaper changed by saying “diaper” (while also using the sign). And last week, while reading a book with Mommy, she pointed to Charlie Brown sitting in a chair and said “Potty chair”. Clearly she learned this past part from her slightly older playmates at daycare. And, just as clearly, Swee’Pea is going to be ready for potty training in the not-so-distant future. The girl is ready.

But I’m not.

I know, I know! I should be happy to get the kid out of diapers! But really, what’s so bad about diapers? You don’t have to ask if the kid has to go to the bathroom ten times an hour. And when the stench is a clear indicator that your kid has indeed done his or her business, you lay the kid down, and you have a semi-still, prone target to wipe away the goods. You have these moist, diaper wipes that magically get rid of the mess and a new, fresh, disposable diaper to get us through the next few hours.

By contrast, I’m NOT looking forward to wiping a standing, clenching, moving little bottom (or, in my case, bottoms) with dry, porous toilet paper. Furthermore, I just know that clothes will be soiled, underwear will be ruined and my gag reflex will be tested once we move beyond the safe venue of a changing table and a box full of wipes. As far as I’m concerned, they can just stay in diapers until they can take care of all the details themselves. I mean, why get all excited just because a kid can “use the potty?” Heck, I’m not getting excited until they can wipe their own butt.

So, Swee’Pea can just hold on to that whole potty chair thing. It ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Look at TheMonk! He’s perfectly content with the whole diaper arrangement – showing no interest at all in changing the status quo. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

January 18, 2007

A Dad’s Tool Kit

As my children progress into toddlerhood, I have found that there are certain items that are indispensable when it comes to performing my fatherly duties. While a mom’s list might include hand sanitizer or lavender lotion, this is something that most men can relate to. While not a complete list, these have been in my top-ten for the past few months and I thought it might be useful for all you new fathers out there…

Top 10 Tools For a New Dad

1) Protective cup. For some unknown reason, toddlers like to kick their legs furiously when you least expect it. Picking up a child for a hug, for example, can lead to swift kicks that inevitably land in the one area that a man would not want a swift kick. Now, wearing a protective cup might make you walk a little funny but it sure beats vomiting on the floor while your kids laugh their tails off.

2) Snacks. Kids get hungry when you least expect it. For some odd reason, just because they’re growing an inch a day they think they should get food whenever they’re hungry. Adding to this dilemna is that they are not so well equipped to tell you, “Why Daddy, I’m quite hungry right now. Could you please give me something to eat?” Instead, your precious child goes from zero to eruption in no time. Having some Cheerios or Kix cereal for such an occasion will go a long way.

3) Tissue. Your toddler will spew some of the most vile fluids you have ever seen. These fluids will ooze from your child’s nose in such copious amounts that you might think she was an extra in the movie Ghostbusters. Having tissue on hand will save you from having to use your own shirt for a quick cleanup. Besides, you’ve seen that kid at the playground who uses the back of his hand to wipe snot and dirt all over his face. Do you want that to be your child? The mothers will look at you and snicker because they expect that from a Dad.

4) Parlor Tricks. Every Dad needs to know a trick or two to keep the kids entertained. I can cross my eyes and then have one eye dance to the left or the right – which mesmorizes the kids just long enough for them to forget why they were about to go ballistic (in my case it’s almost certainly one taking a toy from the other). I can also make a loud hiccup-type sound that cracks the kids up every time. (Note: Your wife might not appreciate your tricks as much as you or the kids do. Proceed at your own risk.)

5) Batteries. Sizes AA, AAA, D, C, and 9-volt. Someday I’m going to run for President and my platform will be that I’ll introduce legislation that will make it mandatory for all toy makers to use the same size battery. Until then we all have to be well-stocked with every size battery imaginable. Few things are worse than having a favorite electronic toy stop working right as you’re about to watch the Chargers win lose a big game and not have any batteries in the house.

6) A small phillips screw driver. Along the same lines as #5, all toys have battery compartments with tiny little screws that must have been designed by Santa’s elves. Most of us manly-men (*snicker*) don’t have a screw driver that small because the size of our tools are important. But trust me on this, you need a small screw driver.

7) A non-operating “real” phone. Toddlers love telephones. I can’t explain it, it’s just true. Unfortunately, they also know when they’re being hosed when you try giving them a toy phone to play with. What we have done is taken an old cordless phone that we no longer use (and is no longer plugged into a phone line) and keep it charged right next to our real phone. Now, when one of our toddlers wants to use the phone we take the old phone, push a couple of buttons to show them it’s “real” and they’re good to go.
8) A Kid-safe drawer. First, you don’t let your wife do all the cooking, do you? Real men know how to cook. Sure it can be a meatball sandwich or a hearty plate of nachos, but you should be able to handle kitchen duties when called upon. When I’m in the kitchen, our kids love to run around. Inevitably they want to open up the cabinets and rummage around inside. Instead of banning them from the kitchen, we have designated a drawer as “their” drawer. In it are all of our knives, skewers and fine china tupperware containers and lids. We direct them to that drawer when they get curious and they have a great time re-arranging all of my perfectly stacked tupperware containers.

9) Funny voices. Every dad needs a signature funny voice that you can unleash at times when there is a need for a major distraction. My voice is a cross between Scooby Doo and Yogi Bear. Funny voices work best when accompanied by funny faces. Protruding tongue and googly eyes are always a hit. (Note: Wife will definitely not respond to this voice in the same way as your kids – especially in the bedroom.)

10) Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Preferably with ample amounts of chocolate. (This is not for your kids, it’s for your wife when she’s had enough dealing with you the kids life. Possibly the most important item in your tool kit.)

Now this list is just a sampling of all the tools available to a dad. It’s a treacherous path, this fatherhood thing, and we could use all the tools we can get. So, Dads (and Moms!) what tools do you have in your tool kit?

January 2, 2007


We do not over-use the word “No” in our house. We did not want our children to constantly use the word “NO!” as most toddlers are apt to do. Instead, we’ll say things like, “Please stay away from that.” or “Daddy doesn’t want you to do that.” Only when it’s something serious will we break out the “n” word.

Our plan, so far, has worked. However, it has come with unintended consequences. And right about now, “NO!” is sounding like a pretty good word. I say this because Swee’Pea has come up with her own form of protest that is 1,000 times more annoying than hearing the word NO!

When Swee’Pea is frustrated or doesn’t get her way she lets out a very loud, very staccato-sounding “AAACK!” This is not a melodius sound. It doesn’t conjure up images of ocean breezes or purring kittens. Instead it hammers away at the inside of your skull, disrupting synapses and killing brains cells. It boggles the mind that a girl this cute can make a sound that awful.

To make matters worse, Swee’Pea is 18-months going on two. She has a growing vocabulary but hasn’t yet made the connection that using her words would be greatly beneficial. In fact, the phrase “Use your words, Swee’Pea” has become a sort of mantra in our household. And when she does remember to use her words we party like it’s 1999. We clap. We cheer. We throw our hands in the air. While she loves this and is obviously proud of herself, unfortunately she forgets it the next time she gets frustrated.


Lord help us.

November 9, 2006

Dear Barnes & Noble Children’s section salesperson,

Hi. I’m sure you remember me. It was your first day at the brand new store. You were so proud of your children’s book section. In fact the smile that you greeted me with and the sincerity in your voice when you told me to let you know if I had any questions was quite impressive. You seemed like such a nice girl. I can tell that doing your job well is important to you and I respect that immensly. You were so nice to show me the new book section and you laughed out loud when I commented on Walter the farting dog as if it was the best joke ever. I was really beginning to like you.

Which is why I am so sorry for spilling hot chocolate all over your pretty new books.

I am not usually a clumsy person. I can’t explain how it happened. All I know is that one minute we’re laughing about Walter farting and the next minute we’re frantically looking for something to wipe up hot chocolate from all those nice, new, neatly stacked books.

I know I kept saying sorry over and over again. And even after I ran through Personal Computing to the Starbucks to get napkins and some water and helped you clean up all the splatter marks, I still felt awful. And through it all you had the best spirit! You were so sweet to tell me, “This is the children’s section! At least the books aren’t covered in boogers.” And you even laughed when I told you I’d tote my kids on over this weekend and we’d take care of that one too.

And to top it all off, I really love the book you finally recommended. I Saw an Ant on the Railroad Track is so much fun. I can’t wait to read it to Swee’Pea and TheMonk.

So, once again, I just wanted to say how sorry I am. And I also wanted to commend you on your excellent customer service. Because of you, I know I’ll be back.

I’ll just leave my hot chocolate behind.



Note: This post was inspired by Idea #21 in No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 Ideas for your Blog by Margaret Mason. Which Barnes and Noble carries, by the way. I know because I made the new staff find it for me. Have you bought your copy yet? Did I mention that I’m in it?

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