Category Archives: parenting

Advice to My Kids as They Begin Their Education

Next month, the Little Man will start Kindergarten. He has been in pre-school since he was 15 months old, spending his days from 7 am – 4 pm at the school (as does the Little Miss) and so he is used to the long days, but this will be at a new school, and it will be the real beginnings of his education. This got me thinking about my own schooling, which in turn got me thinking about what advice I’d offer to my kids as they started out with their own education. It didn’t take me long to come up with 4 things to pass along:

1. It is okay to make mistakes, get things wrong, and occasionally fail at something, so long as you try to learn from those mistakes.

The Little Man in particular gets frustrated when he makes a mistake, or when he doesn’t win at a game. I’m not sure where this comes from because I’m of the opinion that mistakes are how we learn. Natural geniuses aside, learning is rarely easy. I can remember how halting I read when I first learned to read. I had to sound out every word, mangling half of them. It seemed to take forever to get through one page. But one day, I no longer noticed the words. Instead, I noticed the story that they told. It took practice (a lot of practice!) but I got there.

Even failing at some things shouldn’t get you down. We can’t be expert at everything. In college, I took a macro economics class. I attended every lecture. I did all of the assigned reading and homework. I ended up with D in the class. To this day, macro economics stumps me. In many respects, the earlier you learn your trouble-spot, the better you are.

The most important thing is to try to learn from the mistakes you make, in school work, and socially as well.

2. Write in your books!

I wish I had done this more. Write in your books! When you are reading, write your thoughts in the margins as you go. Include your opinions (“This passage is wonderful!”, “Was Doyle on crack when he wrote this?”). This will say you work when it comes time to talk about what you’ve read. But by writing in your books, you also make the book uniquely your own.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Winston Churchill are just three people who wrote in the margins of the books that they read. You will be in very good company.

3. It is okay to have an opinion about things; it is okay not to like something you have read for school.

Through about 7th grade, I went through school thinking that every book I was assigned to read had to be good, because otherwise, why would it be assigned. (The notion of learning what not to do by reading a bad book was foreign to me.) Sometime in 8th grade, however, we had to read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I read it, and loathed it. Looking back on it, I just think I’m not a fan of the loquacious Victorian style. What bothers me most, in retrospect, was that I was afraid to express my opinion of the book in class out of fear that I’d get in trouble for not liking the book.

At some point (probably in 10th or 11th grade) I did express my opinions about books in class. What I found was that my teachers seemed to like this. Looking back on it, I think it is because it was clear that I read the book and formed an opinion about it.

There will be things that you read that you won’t like. Read them anyway, learn what you can from them, but don’t hesitate to express your opinion about them. It is part of the joy of reading.

4. It is okay to go beyond what you are learning, if you find it interesting.

If you find yourself interested in something you learned in class, or read about for class, by all means, pursue it. Don’t feel like you have to be hemmed in by what you are given in class. If you read about Soviet-era Russia in a social studies book, and want to learn more, go to the library and check out a history book. If your science book spends a few paragraphs on black holes and you want more, go to the library (or online) and learn more.

It is okay to go beyond what you are learning in class if you find it interesting. You can also use what you learn later, and if you are entertained while learning, that is all the better.


The main problem with advice like this is that it usually has be learned from experience. That may be so, but this is the advice I would pass along to the Little Man and the Little Miss as they begin their journey through school.

Blood-Sucking Ticks and Clocks

We seem to have a tradition for the Fourth of July that goes beyond spending the holiday in the small town of Castine, Maine. Last year (2013), the Little Man, slipped coming out of the bathroom, and cracked his head on the floor. He didn’t require any stitches, but there was a good deal of blood and crying. Fortunately, my cousin is a doctor and he took a look at the wound and said it would be okay. This year, I jokingly told him I’d make sure the Little Man avoids any slips or spills. And to his credit, the Little Man did not fall on the Fourth of July.

But after the morning parade, I got a text from Kelly. I’d walked back to the house with the Little Miss, while Kelly took the Little Man on a firetruck ride. She texted with the gleeful news that the Little Man had managed to acquire a passenger: a small tick, which found a comfortable spot on his head. Not wanting to freak out the Little Man, Kelly said nothing to him, but when they returned to the house, my cousin, the good doctor, took a look, and, as Dr. Seuss once said, with great skillful skill, and with great speedy speed, successfully removed the tiny hitchhiker.

Jump-cut ahead to a few days ago. The Little Man was taking inventory  of his many wounds, tiny scratches that he has on his legs, for instance, the kind of scratches and scrapes that all five year old boys and girls collect. He called the more prominent of these scrapes “blood holes” which sounds gruesome until you actually see what he is talking about–and then it takes all of your will not to smile or laugh. He was explaining why he needed one snack or another.

“It will make new blood,” he said, “to replace the blood that came out from the blood holes.” We’re talking volumes of blood measured in microliters, picoliters, even.

“You really didn’t lose that much blood, buddy,” I said. “Those are very small scrapes.”

“But Daddy,” said he, “I also had the clock.”

I stared at him, utterly baffled. “The clock?”

“Yeah, the clock. Remember, in Maine. It got on my head and drank my blood.”

I stared at him some more, thinking I’d stepped into some alternate reality populated by blood sucking clocks, à la Salvador Dali. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just stared, mouth agape.

“Remember, Daddy? At the parade?”

And then it dawned on me and I couldn’t help myself. I burst into laughter. “A tick!” I said. You mean a tick?”

“Yeah!”

This, of course, was yet another insight into the mind of a five year old. After the tick was removed, we showed it to him and told him what it was. A tick. Five year olds know nothing of ticks, except that they are half the sound made by–you guessed it–a clock. In this case, a blood-sucking clock.

I have a feeling I am finally beginning to understand from where Dr. Seuss derived much of his inspiration.

An Excerpt From “Conversations at Our Dinner Table,” Ep. 1

Toward the end of our pasta dinner this evening, the Little Man looked at the kitchen table before and pointed to something.

“What’s this, Daddy?” he said.

I looked at it. “Looks like a stain in the wood.”

“No, because feel it.”

I felt it. “Maybe it’s a stain from food. Probably maple syrup from one of your waffles, don’t you think?”

“No!” the Little Man said, “It can’t be from one of my waffles, Daddy. I never eat my waffles at the kitchen table.”

I thought about how he sat in the rocker in our bedroom in the mornings, eating waffles while he watched Disney Junior and could offer no response because his statement was unanswerable. He was absolutely right.

The Little Man Turns Five

The Little Man went to bed excited last night, because today is his birthday and he couldn’t wait to be five years old. And so he is. It’s pretty crazy how quickly the time goes by. When he went to bed last night, I was thinking about the evening, five years earlier, when Kelly and I tried to get a good night’s sleep, knowing it would be our last for a long time. (The Little Man was delivered via a planned C-section, so we knew he was coming and there was no dramatic rush to the hospital the following morning.) Looking back on that morning, everything seemed calm.

Five years later, the Little Man is a week away from graduating from the Montessori school he’s been attending for the last 4 years.  In late August, he will start Kindergarten. He has seen (and loved) all of the Star Wars movies. Indiana Jones, too. He has more Legos than I ever had, and he builds cool things. He is creative and is constantly drawing pictures for me, Kelly, and the Little Miss. He’s curious. He’s funny. And he has a good heart.

Another strange part of seeing the Little Man turn five is that turning five is the first birthday for which I have fairly clear memories. Certainly, I can remember going to Kindergarten, and so the Little Man is entering an age which I remember myself.

The Little Man had a birthday party on Sunday to which all of his friends came. He is bringing cupcakes to school today to share with his classmates. And this evening, a few friends are coming over to celebrate with pizza. He is overflowing with excitement, and that is just delightful to see.

Happy birthday, Little Man!

Building a Block Airport with the Little Man

I did something amazing last night. Together with the Little Man, I built a block airport. When I was the Little Man’s age, I loved playing with blocks. And since many who read this may be digital natives, unfamiliar with the term “blocks” in this context, I’m not referring to ASCII drawings or anything that involves a computer, or even electricity for that matter. I’m talking about plain ol’ wooden blocks.

Some of my clearest memories of playing when was four or five years old concern these wooden blocks. I’d make roads with them, after being in the car with my parents. If we visited a restaurant, I’d come home and build a restaurant with them. The long cylindrical blocks would be ketchup bottles. Three square blocks stacked one atop the other would be a hamburger.

A while back, Kelly picked up a tub of used wooden blocks for the Little Man, and last night, he and I build a block airport. As a former pilot, I modeled the airport runway layout on one of my favorite airports to fly into, Santa Barbara airport.

Aerial view of our airport
Aerial view of our airport
Another aerial view, with the control tower
Another aerial view, with the control tower
The Little Man makes an adjustment
The Little Man makes an adjustment
A cropduster lands on runway 09L
A cropduster lands on runway 09L
A twin-engine lines up on runway 02
A twin-engine lines up on runway 02

I had a blast building the block airport with the Little Man. I think he might have had some fun, too. It was one of those strange, harmonic episodes where I could see myself at his age, doing exactly what he was doing with me.

Saturday Afternoon Update: My Long Weekend Alone with the Kids

It is going surprisingly well, so far. Kelly left for the west coast early Thursday morning, and I’ve made it to Saturday evening with no significant problems. The kids miss their mom, but neither of them has been overly stressed about it. The Little Man, who is getting better with math, reminds me each morning how many days are left until she gets home.

The biggest issue we’ve had took place Friday morning. We had big storms Thursday night. Friday is normally a “sleep in” day for the kids when Kelly is home, but I wanted to get them into school right at 7 am so that I could get to the office and avoid any traffic issues due to the weather1. It got them to school right at 7 am–only to discover that several classrooms had flooded and they weren’t sure whether the school would be open. Rather than leave the kids there and have to come back shortly to pick them up–should the decision go in that direction–I bit the bullet, took them home, and wrote of the work day as a loss.

The kids have been incredibly well-behaved, and helpful. They’ve cooperated with me in every way and that has made things easier. I’ve also taken a page from what I’ve learned by writing every day, and I’ve planned ahead, using small bit of free time here and there to get ahead of dishes, do some laundry, clean out the cat litter, etc. Getting behind is where I get into trouble, but I’ve managed to avoid that.

Today, we had soccer and ballet at 9 am, then came back home, then went to a birthday party at 1 pm, and we just arrived home a little while ago. The Little Miss is out cold, and the Little Man is watching Frozen, which I hope will put him out as well. I might be staying ahead of the curve, but I’m fairly exhausted.

I have managed to keep up with my writing. I wrote over 1,100 words on Thursday, and almost 1,400 words yesterday, all of them coming after the kids went to bed. I’m about to squeeze in some more writing after I post this.

Kelly is back from her trip tomorrow afternoon, and I think we are all looking forward to that. And then on Monday, the construction crew arrives to tear up our kitchen in order to remodel it. It will be interesting to see how well the writing progresses during the 2-3 weeks when things are banging and clanging and dusty and the kitchen is more or less useless.

Notes

  1. We got well over 2 inches of rain in a relatively short span of time.

This Week Will Be an Interesting One

Beginning today, we cannot park on our street through Friday because they are repaving and restriping our community. We either have to park on the access road or the next street over in our community. This isn’t a terrible inconvenience, but it breaks up the daily routine slightly, and folks with little kids know how useful those routines can be. Actually, it wouldn’t be that big a deal at all, except…

On Thursday, Kelly heads off to a conference out west for 4 days and it will be me and the kids all alone. Remarkable as it seems, this will be my first time with both kids by myself overnight. Times three nights. Before the Little Miss was born, Kelly had a business trip in Chicago and it was me and the Little Man for a few days, but both kids should be interesting.

Meanwhile, the Little Miss has been sick–fever, runny nose, cough–and is finally over it. But the Little Man was coughing this morning. No fever (yet!) but I’ve found that brothers and sisters like to copy one another and I imagine the Little Man’s fever will rear its ugly head just before I take Kelly to the airport on Thursday morning. I’ll check back in and let you know if I was right nor not.

On top of all this, we began migrating everything from our kitchen into other rooms of the house because one week from today, the day after Kelly returns from her trip out west, the crew arrives to demolish our kitchen and then rebuilt it, more to our tastes. We made good progress last night, but the rest of the work will have to be done over the next several evenings, and if we don’t finish, it means I’ll need to do it while Kelly is away, and I am home with the kids.

On Saturday, the kids have soccer and ballet at the same time, which will be an interesting challenge for one person. And Saturday afternoon they have a birthday party to attend. In addition to “doing something fun,” although I haven’t exactly figured out what that something is yet.

So, to sum up:

  1. We can’t park on our street this week.
  2. I’ll be on my own with both kids for three nights for the first time.
  3. We have to empty out our kitchen by Sunday night.
  4. The Little Man is likely to catch whatever the Little Miss had.

Oh, and of course, I’ll be squeezing in my writing every day at some point, although later in the week, it will most likely be after I’ve gotten the kids off to bed.

I thought about all of this yesterday, which was Mother’s Day here in the U.S., and it was a good reminder to me about how much Kelly manages to do that makes the days seems smooth and seamless. We share chores, but you get used to what you do (I bathe the kids, get them dressed in the mornings, get their breakfast, etc.) and you don’t really see what your comrade in arms does (a list far too long for me to included here; just assume everything not listed above) because it just gets done as if by magic.

So, if I seem a little on edge this week, you at least have some inkling as to why. And if I seem a little on edge next week, well, it’s because of all of the banging and dust and construction that will be happening in the house–to say nothing of lack of a kitchen.

The Little Miss’s Unique Contributions to the English Lexicon

The Little Miss, who will turn three in August, has always been both precocious and strong-willed. She prefers her way, even though she understands there are other ways, and it turns out, that her way with words are often more efficient than other ways. Here are just three examples from the Little Misses unique vocabulary.

1. Sockpants. Instead of stockings–the kind she would wear with a dress, that pull all the way up–the Little Miss insists on referring to this item of apparel as “sockpants.” Which, when you think about it, is a perfectly concise and accurate description of what they are.

2. Rainbrella. It makes absolutely no sense, at least to the Little Miss, calling that thing that keeps you dry when it is raining an umbrella. What the heck does “um” mean, anyway1? She calls it, completely of her own accord, a “rainbella.” Once again, it is simplicity itself.

3. Babysuit. In the winter, the Little Miss would wear white tanktops underneath her other clothes. She took to calling these garments “babysuits,” possibly because, without arms, they have some resemblance to bathing suits that she wears when she goes swimming.

Like the Little Man, the Little Miss seems to have inherited my ear for song lyrics. She learns them remarkably fast, and that means that our evenings often ring with the dulcet tones of the Little Miss singing “Let It Go” or “For the First Time in Forever” or “Do You want to Build a Snowman.” For the latter, I’ve noticed that the Little Miss hasn’t quite misinterpreted the lyrics of one verse. Instead, I’d say she’s reinterpreted them based on her own experience. Instead of singing:

We used to be best buddies, but now we’re not, I wish you would tell me why….

The Little Miss sings,

We used to be best bunnies, but now we’re not, I wish you would tell me why…

And no amount of correction will convince her that her interpretation is wrong. Because in her world, it isn’t.

At the very least, I think that both “sockpants” and “rainbrella” are worth of serious consideration for extended use. It will be interesting to see what other portmanteau words the Little Miss manages to invent as her vocabulary continues to grow.

Notes

  1. Apparently, it comes down from the Latin “umbra” meaning dark spot, or shade, which I suppose makes sense, but the Little Miss has never used an umbrella for shade, only for rain, and I think therefore her term makes far more sense.

Being A Big Brother

We slept in later than usual for a Saturday. The Little Man, almost 5 years old now, came into our room sometime before sunrise and got into bed with us. Sometime later, after sunrise, we heard the Little Miss, 2-1/2, calling for us. We both wanted to sleep in1 and in an act of small miracle, the Little Man got out of our bed, walked into their shared room, and greeted the Little Miss.

The morning routine involves the Little Miss using the potty before she comes into our room. We both lay there, waiting for the call, “Mommy, Little Miss needs to go potty!” But it didn’t come. We lay there and listened in wonder as the Little Man took charge.

“Do you to go potty, Little Miss?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s go. You want me to help with your pajamas?”

“I can do it,” the Little Miss said.

We could hear her unzip her feetie pajamas and sit on the potty. We could hear her start to go. What we heard next was one of those things that, as a parent, melts your heart. The Little Man said, “Little Miss, I’m very proud of you for going potty.”

He helped her back into her pajamas and then walked her into our room and into our bed, where the four of us lazed around for a little while longer. The Little Man might have been proud of the Little Miss, but we simply beamed with pride at what a good big brother he has become.

Notes

  1. I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older, that “sleeping in” is a relative term. Anything after 6 am feel like sleeping in, even on a Saturday. Anything past 7 am feels almost lazy. We slept past 7 this morning.

Good Food and Good Fun

Kelly has been using the crockpot more and more to slow cook things like chicken. It is almost always very good, but tonight, she took it to a new level. I think it was probably the single best meal we’ve had. I savored mine, making it last as long as I could. We liked it so much that Kelly might cook it again later in the week. It’s easy to make, and it is also ideal for when we have company.

But man, I wish there was more, because it was just fantastic.

After dinner, the Little Man, Little Miss and I had some fun singing songs. First there was “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. Both kids have seen the movie, but I have not. In fact, yesterday was the first time I heard the song. I’ve always been able to learn the lyrics of a song after hearing it once or twice. The Little Man has inherited that talent. He knows more words of that song than I do. At one point, all three of us were singing the song, and it was a blast.

From “Let It Go” we transitioned into “Gone Fishin’” which the Little Man knows well. When both kids were babies, instead of lullabies, I’d sing them Bing Crosby songs. The Little Man knows a ton of them, and “Gone Fishin’” is one of his standards.

After a few rounds of “Gone Fishin’” we ended the session with the theme from “Underdog.” The Little Man learned that theme a long time ago. We found it on YouTube a while back when I was showing him some of the cartoons I watched when I was a kid. He knows all of the words, of course.  A few days ago, he said he heard the “Underdog” theme on TV. I thought that was strange, and figured he must have been imagining things, but it turns out he was absolutely right, as I later learned.

It was one of those evenings that just makes me smile, and so I thought I’d share it, in case anyone else out there was in need of a smile, too.

What “Overload” Looks Like: The Personal Analytics of Being Too Busy

These last few weeks have been just crazy for me. In addition to an usually busy period at the day job, with projects coming to rollout while others are just starting up, and others still need extra help, I’ve also been preparing for the seminar I gave earlier this week, reading and writing for my book review column, continuing to work on my current novella, and, of course, doing family stuff. I have had time for almost nothing else, and when you look at the numbers, it shows.

Here is what a fairly typical week of walking looks like for me:

Typical Week Walking

You can see that on most days, I hit my goal of 15,000 steps (about 7.5 miles) each day. More often than not, I exceed it. The last few weeks, however, I’ve just been too busy to take the time to walk. My weeks have looked more like this:

Busy Week Walking

Here, on the majority of the days, I barely hit 5,000 steps, less than a third of what I aim for. Granted, the cold weather has played a factor, but it was cold today and still managed over 17,000 steps. The bigger factor has been being so busy!

Another way to see this is to look at my fiction writing. Here is a rolling 7-day average of my fiction writing over the last 30 days:

30 Day Moving Average

The red line represents my daily goal (currently 700 words/day). For the first time in a long time, my 7-day moving average has fallen below my daily goal. You can see that this busy phase really took off around January 4th, and has just continued to hammer me. That said, I still have managed to write every day, even if it is less. As of today, I’ve written for 193 consecutive days, and 336 out of the last 338 days. But these last few weeks, the daily totals have been dropping–not because I don’t have the desire, but because I don’t have the time.

So where is all of the time going? Earlier this month, I started using RescueTime, which is about the best tool I could find for tracking your time on the computer in great detail without any effort on your part. According to RescueTime, I logged over 70 hours on computers last week:

RescueTime Productivity

The red represents my non-productive time, but more than 69% of my time was in highly productive work–you can see the breakdown for yourself. (RescueTime goes into far more detail, but there’s no need to do so here.)

This week is looking very much the same as last, but I think things are finally starting to ease up. Also, I’m beginning to say “no” to some things. (I was asked to do a radio interview this evening, but I said no, simply because I didn’t need the added stress.)

I find it interesting to bring all of this data and see what the picture looks like when I feel overwhelmed. In a way, I can extract some data from all of these numbers and build a kind of early-warning system that alerts me when things are moving in this direction again–and perhaps that will help me to better identify when to slow down a little bit sooner.

(P.S.: I do plan to write a more extensive post on RescueTime, which is amazing, but: I’m kinda busy right now.)