Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gross Motor Skills

The children had their annual well visits to the doctor earlier this week, and we're of course relieved and blessed to report that we won't soon be the subjects of a Dr. Nancy Snyderman segment on the Today Show. Still, this wasn't the typical well visit, as the good doctor gave a some take-home assignment this time.

Today the newly minted 5-year-old  was diagnosed with something called hypermobility, which sounds like something this guy would have suffered from (or maybe enjoyed), but instead is something this guy has. This means that he's double-jointed, I think, but "double-jointed" doesn't sound medical enough. It also means that his fine motor skills are anything but. But in order to strengthen his fine motor skills, he must first strengthen his gross motor skills. (We'll pause here and allow you to come up with your best machine-gun farting in his sleep jokes. All of them are applicable and appreciated. Go ahead, we'll wait.)

No. Gross motor skills instead are things like being able to jump off the couch onto your little brother's head, throwing a baseball at your little brother's head, or passing a routine sobriety test. Also the essential skill of hopping on one foot on your brother's head, something that admittedly I've never seen him do, though not out of pity. The fact that he can't stand, let alone hop, on one foot at the age of five without falling into the bookshelf is terrifying to me, because that means he's just like me. I have no gross motor skillz. I didn't learn to tie my shoes until third grade. Just last year (last year) at a children's museum I fell off a balance thingie and plowed over a mother AND her daughter. This was LAST YEAR.

In order to avoid those embarrassments and many like them befalling my son, we'll be taking him to OT, which is not overtime, but Occupational Therapy, yet another thing that sounds like something it's not. "After a rough day at the office, I just need to go to the bar for some Occupational Therapy." Wrong. This OT involves training that will enhance his muscles so that when it comes down to fine motor skills, his handwriting won't look like the crawler on al-Jazeera TV (unless he wants it to) and he'll be able to load the copy machine at work without producing a ream of accordion fans.

The kid comes by it honestly, though. After 39 years it didn't seem abnormal to me that I can bend my index finger back a little. And my wife, at the ripe old age a ripe age, didn't realize that not everyone can touch their wrist with their thumb. Every time I think about touching my wrist with my thumb, my thumb hurts as I feel it breaking off into my lap. The Rocky Statue is more likely to be able to touch its wrist with its thumb. The last thing I need is to lack opposable thumbs, so I don't even try. In fact, I don't even look at my thumbs any more. I really like having thumbs.

So far the hypermobility hasn't hindered his sports aptitude much. He regularly kicks soccer balls into the other team's net, can ice skate slowly in a straight line and can hit a baseball. (Though I worry about his swing. We've been working on the proper "step and swing" technique, and every time I pitch the ball he does the Pennsylvania Polka with the bat and swats at my patented slow, straight ball like it's a darting horsefly. So I usually just let him rip, bad technique and all.)

Next week this very same kid goes for an eye exam. I'm too afraid to know how that goes.

Of course, we still feel blessed. Plenty of parents are spending way too many hours and days in the hospital, caring for and worrying about kids with serious illnesses. That our worst-case so far is a treatable, minor condition that may make my son a little clumsy but ultimately poses no threat to his well-being? That's a pretty good day at the doctor's office.

If you're reading this, Mimzy, we're thinking about you.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The 12-20 Plan, Part II: What Other Dads Want

Recently I asked a question of a number of dads who do this better than I: Given that one of the joys of parenthood is the ability to teach your children everything you possibly can, what is the one thing you wish you didn't have to teach your children?

I cheated and tried to take seven entire years of life lessons from my children. But I forced the other dads to narrow it down to one thing, if they could. There were some great responses.

A number of dads would give up the potty training stage:

--For example, Lorne Jaffe-- who is killing it while Raising Sienna, says: "I haven't even started potty training Sienna and I'm dreading it. Imagine a newborn just wriggling her way to the toilet, climbing up, going and flushing! No gross diaper changes! No accidents! So much more sleep for us! Plus imagine all the money we would have saved not having to spend it on diapers, Desitin, etc!" 

--Meanwhile, Niel Vuolo, who wins my unofficial Webby vote for Best Name of a Parenting Site with, agrees: "100% potty training. While my daughter is struggling with reading that is something that is easy an enjoyable to teach. While potty training my son has been a huge nightmare. A nightmare that includes lots of poop and laundry for me to do.

Lorne and Niel, I'm with you 100%. But beware, just because you finally teach your children to sit on the potty, it doesn't mean your work is done. At least when the kids are pooping their pants, you can be reasonably assured someone is wiping their butts. Potty training is one thing, but, regrettably, my wife and I came up short in the "wiping one's own butt" training, leaving almost as much cleanup work as before. And while the cost savings on diapers and creams is immeasurable, sometimes it's still fun to say "We need butt paste."

--Meanwhile, Scott Behson from Fathers, Work and Family went for the daily double of "sleeping through the night and pooping in the toilet." Doesn't sound like too much to ask, except we remember our college years, when many of us were sleeping in the toilet and...well...

Most of the other responses also focused on the younger years.

--Michael R. Bryant aka, The Purposeful Pappy"I wish my son was born understanding that his little sister is actually breakable and tackling her hard core is not ok... even if she is laughing after he does it. I don't worry because she is a girl, we are a rough and tumble country family after all, I worry because he outweighs her by twenty pounds!" Not to worry, Michael, this is just a rite of passage. I could spout off a "boys will be boys" line to you, but I bet the girl comes back and gives the boy a run for his money. :-)

-- Mark Jimenez (My Family Did What?) offered a number of items: "Definitely sharing. Little Mark has never been good at sharing. He's also got some anger management issues. Oh, and he also... wait you asked for only one thing, my bad." That's ok, Mark, you're in a safe place. Let it all out! None of my kids share much, either. Particularly the youngest, who the older two recognize as a black hole for all treats. And my middle child threw a shoe across the room when he lost his first game of Skip-Bo, for which he got a timeout that is still in effect indefinitely. Our kids can go to anger management classes together and perhaps Skype the webinar on Sharing.

-- Mike Heenan from over at At Home Dad Matters wants us all to pipe down: "{{{INDOOOR VOICESSSS}}}" What's that, Mike? We can't hear you over the beeping trucks, the blaring fire engines, the toy minivan that plays '70s porn music, and the Curious George episode that's on 56 volume. Please speak up...

      --Spike Zelenka is the Double Trouble Daddy. He says: "As my sons are only 18 months old, I've been lucky that I haven't hit that many obstacles yet, except that one of my twins has yet to master the sippy cup. I know it sounds petty in the grand scheme of things that I could wish for, but it just frustrates me that he knows how to do it (takes a sip or two) but refuses after a few tries because he knows he'll get a bottle eventually. Ugh!" Not sure exactly what to do with this one, Spike, but often when my kids sent the sippy cup back, there was some sort of "blockage" that we pretended to "remove" with a "butter knife" before sending back. Amazingly, this worked like a charm. Not sure if this will help in your case? Also we fed our kids nothing but chocolate milkshakes.

-   --Nick Downey, the Dad with a Blog-- never to be confused with the Dog With a Blog -- has had trouble sleeping since, like, forever: "I never knew teaching the kids how to sleep would be such a challenge. If I didn't have to teach this essential life skill, I just... well I don't know, I am too sleep deprived to have any clue how far I could have gotten." Again, I'm not much help here. At the very least, I can offer that if your child behaves really well in a dentist's office, he may get something to help him sleep in his own bed. Otherwise, I can't help you. Run the vacuum all night?

    --Nick Edwards, who does his thing over at had a very practical, potentially lucrative idea: "I wish my kid was born with a mastery of the stock market." Excellent idea, Nick, I don't think it's too much to ask our newborns, who spend 22 hours a day lying on their butts, to be opening up their own 529s and working on our IRAs. Like they have anything better to do.

    --Aaron Yavelberg sleeps on the edge. (He must have been sleeping in my bed.) A sports fan, Aaron went this direction: "I would have said potty training too but Lorne beat me to it. I'm pretty comfortable with everything else so I'll say I wish I didn't have to teach my son that his true allegiances are to the Chicago sports teams, as opposed to New York, where we live. Although the truth is, I just don't want him to be a Knicks or a Yankees fan. Knicks because I worry about his sanity and Yankees because I worry about his soul." This is excellent parenting, in my opinion. You have free reign over who you root for and who you nudge your child's allegiances to. Sure, they may grow up to like a different team, either through classmates, sheer obstinacy, or the allure of the local media. (Talk about Sleeping on the Edge). Chances are, if you get in front if them on this important topic, you'll have your kids for life. Quick side note: On the day of the 2010 AFC championship, we dressed our 7-month-old son in a Troy Polamalu jersey and took him to the grocery store, where a guy saw the shirt and whispered to his wife, "That's disgusting." Of course he meant "disgustingly cute" since we live in Northern Delaware, Philadelphia Eagles country, where all the fans are nothing but class. We dedicated the win to that guy. Moving on...

    --Mike Julianelle is Dad And Buried. From the grave he offers, "How to please a woman, so he can tell me!!!" Come on, Mike, we're not miracle workers. 

    --But Mike, along with Aaron Gouveia at Daddy Files, both hit on a subject that many, many parents struggle with: Self-confidence. "Because I haven't learned it yet," Aaron says. Mike adds,"In all seriousness, Aaron nailed it: self-confidence is the right answer. Self-confidence is the most important thing a person can have. It's both a suit of armor and the secret to success. But while there are surely ways to imbue it, it's not quite a teachable skill."

       I agree, and it will never be a teachable skill like driving, sports, or music. But it lays the groundwork for those things. And of course, the reverse is also true. Enrolling your child in as many activities at a young age as you can afford to, monetarily, on your calendar, but also on their calendar, will serve only to increase your odds of raising confident, not cocky, teens and adults. Kids will let you know, too, if burnout is a concern. When we asked our daughter if she wants to learn how to ice skate, she said, "I already do three things; I don't want to do four." Fair enough!

      Don't limit yourself to structured activities. Nothing scheduled for today? Go find a state park or a historical landmark. Or a zoo. Studies have shown that simply increasing the number of experiences your children have at a young age will increase intelligence. Intelligence! If they made a pill that increased intelligence, people would line up out the door of the pharmacy. Nobody is jamming the Delaware Museum of Natural History, however. Get out, get your kids seeing things they've never seen before. Blow their minds. They'll be able to handle it. They'll process it. They'll remember it. 

      Also, as they say to the guys in the NFL who perform obnoxious end-zone celebrations, "Act like you've been there before." I suffer from lack of self-confidence every day. But my kids don't know that. Or they're very good at not pointing it out, which is absolutely false. They point everything out! Speak with confidence to them, when you're teaching them, when you're disciplining them, when you're joking around with them. They learn from the cues they get from us. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Tell them they can do it, whatever "it" is.  

      Finally, keep doing what you're doing, gents. Just the fact that you've got something down for the Internet to see, seems like you're all on the right track.

The 12-to-20 plan, Part I

As soon as my daughter was born, and we cut all the cords and the nurses wiped most of the gunk off her body, my wife and I contacted our advisor. Before the girl was back from her APGAR tests, we had signed her up for the 12-to-20 plan. It's the best thing we could have done as parents. Here's why: (Cue the "Robert Wagner explaining reverse mortgages" voice...)

The 12-to-20 plan allows parents to skip the 7 most trying years of the entire experience by immediately advancing kids' ages from 12 to 20. On the 13th anniversary of their birth, your kids will wake up moderately well-adjusted, mannerly, post-pubescent young ladies and gentlemen. This affords the parents the opportunity to live life without worrying about what time the kids will be home, whose car they'll be taking, what crowd they are running with, and the PSATs. And sex. And a whole host of things that haven't been invented yet. Things like Venmo, which I just heard about yesterday and which scares the shit out of me. Resolved: My daughter will not own so much as a checkbook until she is old enough to be the Speaker of the House.

But there's a twist. You have to give up one seven-year span of your own life in the process, but it can be any seven-year span. I chose the last seven years of my life without hesitation. There's really not much use in me screwing up euchre games in the home by forgetting that the jack of clubs is actually a spade, or boring the staff with tales of my hardscrabble youth of Apple IIc computers and mice with cords. I'll take my chances in exchange for not having to apply air brakes every time my daughter nearly drives into the local pond.

Simply put, teens can be some of the most ignorant, indignant, insolent, impudent, indifferent, indolent people in society. And then they turn 14. So they're all those things but at a rate of a box of cereal and a gallon of milk per day. By 15, they are eating entire pizzas, box and all, folding them over each other into sliders. All the while, you send them out for the mail and they come back smelling like french onion soup. Yet somehow they are still having sex...

Then the next year they drive. Abrasive yet timid, all-knowing yet green, hormonal yet even more hormonal, we try to teach them to operate large metal vehicles and then trust them to do so after they practice driving between some cones. By 18, we're letting them help us elect our next president and buy lottery tickets, probably the same thing. At 19, they are starting to round into shape, sometimes literally, but just as you think they're ready for some adult conversation-- and you ask them about, say, their career goals-- and they become indignant, impudent, insolent...

And I was one of the better kids...*

*probably because I was minus the sex part.

But as I lay in my hospital bed in our (at the time) brand new birthing room, somebody's voice, maybe Robert Wagner's, maybe Morgan Freeman's, or maybe even the voice of the impossibly calm and-- not gonna lie-- slightly pretentious Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reminded me:

"What if your parents had gone 12-20 with you? Think about all the people in your life you would have never met. All the people who shaped your life. They'd be busy shaping other people's lives. Sure, you could have avoided that time you had to call the maintenance man to shut the water off in your apartment, (lefty-loosy, buddy) but think where you'd be right now without those people. Some of the best people in your life would be gone. Even the people you knew before adolescence wouldn't be the same people without those shared experiences.

"Then think about if your in-laws went 12-20 with your wife. While you were busy picking your nose in Gen Psych as a 20-year-old, she would have been 25 years old, started her family with someone who could actually turn her water off, and this precious bundle you're holding would never have been. OK, bad example, I realize she's screamed and cried for all 34 hours she's been alive so far while your pupils are the size of pinheads, but work with me.

"Now think about years from now when you guys go to buy a minivan. Don't look at me like that, just think about it. Or you go to get your wills done. Or, a longshot, what if you try to have what they'll call years from now a 'date night.' Who do you think will watch your kids? A teenager. And she'll be really good at it, and your kids will absolutely love her. (OK fine, start over, imagine you're going to buy a Porsche, tough guy, whatever. Get over yourself.) Then of course, you'll be responsible for properly schooling your child on everything they've missed since 6th grade, so I hope you're still good at trigonometry and the leading causes of World War I and whatever "physics" is. Who will cut your grass? Who will show you how to work the electronics on the technology thingies that you won't understand? Nobody. Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

So it may have been just delirium from no sleep, but Master Splinter talked us in to backing out of the 12-20 plan at the last minute. Even though we're still 6 years away from worrying about any of that--maybe sooner if what I read about "those hormones" they're putting in "those animals these days" is true-- we're pretty sure we made the right choice. We'll just have to remember some important rules:

1. No drinking.
2. No sex.
3. Be home by 11:00.
4. We reserve the right to change our mind and reinstate 12 to 20 at any time without notice.
5. The jack in the other suit of the same color as the trump suit is the second highest card in the deck.
6. When you're stupid and forget rules 1-5, we'll love you unconditionally anyway.

Want to know what other Dads think ? Read Part II, then!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Not Our First Monkey Rodeo...Wait, Yes It Was

When we signed up for our annual minor-league baseball outing, we were excited to try to get tickets to a fireworks game. When we found out later that it was also Monkey Rodeo night, we dropped everything we were doing. Get the tickets now!

Not that we were rabid fans of monkeys riding on dogs, or even fans of monkeys riding on rabid dogs, but because we really just wanted to see fireworks, and anything involving monkeys stands to draw a crowd. Even the Wilmington Blue Rocks, class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Sorry, ADVANCED Class A.

Despite our attempts to downplay it, the kids still had a sense of expectation that monkeys on dogs was going to be somewhere between awesome and private-dinner-with-the-Swedish-Chef awesome, and so the worst thing we could do to them is miss it. Because of the bad traffic situation in Delaware, we left our house 4 hours early, barely giving us a chance to get something to eat, get to the park, and watch the two-year-old throw his ticket in a puddle of water, then get his nuts crushed by the turnstile.

It must have been Attention Deficit Disorder night at the ballpark. Before we got to our seats, we were nearly run over by a mascot I didn't recognize (later identified as Coastee - another monkey - late for his appointment at the RightCoastPro Wrestling booth. Nobody told me they'd be here too!!!)

Then before the game started the Delaware State Police gave a demonstration where two of their dogs tried to rip the Michelin Man to shreds. It was actually quite impressive, and the poor chap tasked to play the criminal was glad he was dressed as he was in the 90-degree heat, else the dogs would have killed him if the heat didn't get him first.

Here's the painful truth: One you've seen police dogs in action, monkeys on dogs herding goats is not all that interesting. Twice between innings during the game you had goats in the outfield. Then you had dogs chasing them. And you had tiny monkeys on the dogs. So tiny that unless you were the monkeys themselves, it just seemed like dogs chasing really stupid goats. I started yearning for the days of the gun that shoots hot dogs into the stands and the Jumbotron shell game. The crowd roared its approval anyway.

Throughout the game you had the spin-around-with-your-nose-on-the-bat-handle-then-try-to-run-in-a-straight-line contest. You had the frozen t-shirt contest. You had the throw-a-ball-into-the-sun-roof-of-a-moving-mid-sized-SUV-for-prizes contest. You had the never popular kids-racing-in-a-straight-line contest. You had the put-a-beach-ball-at-either-end-of-the-stadium-and-see-which-fans-can-bat-their-ball-toward-home-plate-faster contest. You had clueless fans not paying attention to the rules, batting the beach ball the wrong way and getting just eviscerated by uber-competitive 13-year-old boys. Did I mention you had monkeys on dogs? You had dogs chasing goats. You had dogs attacking bad guys. You had a bouncy house, which my kids never saw and seemed even more ancillary than ever. Who needed a bouncy house?

You had a two-year-old spend innings 3 through 6 narrowly missing spitting on, kicking, and negligently pulling the hair of the young woman in front of him. You had that same two-year-old drink his siblings' drinks before passing out in a pool of his own sweat on his mother's chest in inning 8. Then after the game, but before the fireworks, which came before the throw-a-tennis-ball-from-the-stands-into-hula-hoops-strewn-across-the-field-for-prizes contest, you had one more go round of, you guessed it, cowboy monkey rodeo. This time, for the grand finale, they herded the goats INTO A SQUARE MADE OF FENCING. Then you had fireworks.

You also had a baseball game. A three-hour, seven-minute baseball game that ended 2-1, mercifully in nine innings. You had a home team with one player in the lineup batting above .236 (hint to non-baseball fans: that's historically awful. I hope for Kansas City's sake, they have other minor league teams to pull from.) Because when you have three-hour games that end up 2-1, you need all those hyphenated, between-innings events just to keep kids' attention in this day and age. At least that's what I hear. Come on baseball, speed yourself up.

But in the end, you showed the kids a good time. And you know you'll be back next year.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in Your House

Judging by the local newscasts, the worst thing I could possibly do these days is drive over one of Delaware's many structurally deficient bridges to a birthday party with an outdoor bouncy house that blows into the ocean, where a riptide full of hangry tiger sharks voraciously lick the Level 200 sunscreen off my kids' faces, exposing them to the sun's harsh rays as they eat gluten-filled cake once the tide washes them ashore.

And that's before we get to the weather update. With dangerous heat, dangerous humidity, dangerous storms, dangerous floods and dangerous sun's rays constantly threatening our lives, it's no wonder the local weather yahoos  have named their segment after a Carbon Monoxide detector.

So the best thing to do for our kids is to not go anywhere and hang out in the basement on beautiful summer days, where it's cool and safe and dark, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on 46 volume to clear the rusty din of the dehumidifier.

Which is exactly what we were doing when suddenly the middle child came crying like a Brazilian soccer fan over something he discovered in the toilet. (Should be no surprise that someone looking in our toilet would be moved to tears considering our house's already documented poor flush rate.) But in this case the tears were justified as a quick glance into the bowl gave us this latest threat to our well-beings:

Apparently the urban legend is not actually an urban legend. And apparently snakes in a toilet was an urban legend? The only urban legend I ever gave much credence to was the one where people hunt you down and murder you if you politely flick your headlights at night.

But immediately we flew into action, me to get a picture of the snake, and my wife to find perhaps the absolute worst-case scenario, just so I'd hurry up a little bit. The two-year-old, who spent more time around the toilet on this day than he has in his life to this point, brazenly flushed (so that's what it takes to get somebody to flush around here) and we were out of the woods.

So how did the snake get in the house in the first place? According to the computer, it's possible he--of course it's a he, that snake-- could have come in through the septic tank through a hole as small as the diameter of a pencil. It's entirely possible, the Internet continues, that a damaged septic tank can allow animals in, particularly if mice and rats are around. Dear God.

Or he just came through the basement door. There are any number of doors that we leave wide open in the summer, so it would shock nobody-- as we were settling arguments over bubble soap, the garden hose, or who has to use the littlest tennis racket-- that a snake, a bald eagle and three polar bears sauntered in, got what they needed, then either got out or got stuck in the commode.

The problem though is that, owing to either the strong swimming characteristics of snakes or the weak flushing power of our toilets, he came back 30 minutes later. And every time I reached in with my glove hand, (we could only find one rubber glove in the house) he swam back down the toilet.

So we had the suddenly brave kids stand watch while we poured Drano down every drain in the house in an attempt to get rid of the thing once and for all. After about four hours, with no return of the snake, we allowed ourselves to breathe. Then, while I was on the phone, my wife pulled the classic Abbott and Costello seeing a ghost routine while I put my hand over my other ear...(Full disclosure: I was trying to figure out a work issue. Seriously. So I didn't know that the snake had crawled out of the commode and was resting comfortably on top in the Klennex box. The Kleenex box?!?!)

Actually, it had kind of dried out by the that point, so we calmly picked him up and dropped him into the bucket and dumped him outside. Done.

All of this silliness further cemented my role as the "fixer" around the house, which is a joke (literally) because more often than not I have to ask my wife where the tools are. Somehow I got the title of "fixer" after seven years, just for replacing a roll of Scotch tape, tightening the knob on the bathroom door once, and getting rid of a snake after five hours and four tries.  THAT is why it's great having can be totally incompetent and nobody knows the what is that awful, shrill sound?

Sweet Jesus, I think we need to change the Carbon Monoxide detector.