Category Archives: parenting

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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

Cats in the Cradle

Whenever the Little Man comes up to me (as he did last night) and says, “How come you’re always working, daddy?” I inevitably hang my head in shame and think of this song:

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.)

Playing Trains with the Little Man

Last night, the Little Man and I played trains. Usually, he plays with his trains down in the family room where all of his various tracks and tables and paraphernalia are located, but yesterday, he was feeling Puckish, perhaps thanks to his pink-eye, and brought a basket of wooden tracks up to my office. Together, we build a fairly elaborate, a completely random track layout.

Playing Trains

We took a break to eat dinner, and then returned to drive our trains around the track. To add atmosphere to our play time, I put on this song, which I remember seeing on Sesame Street or Electric Company or something like that when I was a kid. The Little Man had seen it many times before, too, but it made the game all the more fun:

We both had a blast. Later that evening, when we were finishing playing and the Little Man had his bath and it was time for me to put drops in his eyes, I managed to get the drops in quickly and easily without the panic or tears1 that had come on previous attempts.

I blame it on the train.

  1. From him, not from me, although I can understand the confusion.

Inherited Traits: Or, What I Have Passed on to the Little Man and Little Miss

When you have kids, you kind of expect there are certain things they will inherit: eye color, hair thickness (or thinness), etc. These are all physical characteristics, and our kids have a good mixture from both of us. But I’ve noticed more and more non-physical things that they have inherited from me.

The Little Man has inherited my ear for lyrics and music. He remembers all of the songs I sing, and I sometimes find him singing them to himself. I’m not talking about children’s lullabies, either. I’m talking things like R.E.M.’s “Superman” or Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong’s “Gone Fishin'”.

The Little Miss has inherited another of these traits. I have this strange ability to quote from any episode of M*A*S*H, and do so frequently when in the company of willing conspirators, much to Kelly’s chagrin. Sometimes, when an episode of M*A*S*H is on TV, I’ll often say the lines just before the actors, which I know can be very annoying–but I just can’t help myself. The Little Miss seems to have inherited a version of this peculiar talent. Except, instead of M*A*S*H, she quotes lines from Caillou–often immediately before the character says the line. I noticed this for the first time a few nights ago and it was slightly disconcerting. She has done it more than once, since, but I think she does it now because she knows how proud it makes me. She will be a very good TV episode quoter, just like her dad.

The Little Man Writes His Name

A few nights ago, the Little Man was at the kitchen counter, scribbling away with crayons. I knew that he knew the first letter of his name and could recognize it. I knew he was learning to add in his preschool. But when he called me into the kitchen to see that he had written his name, I was skeptical.

In I walked from my office, to see what the Little Man meant when he said, “I wrote my name.” It turned out he meant exactly what he said. He had, indeed, written his name on the paper. I asked him to do it again, and he did! It is a small thing, I know, but I felt inordinately proud of him. People may say that’s the writer in me, but I think it’s the father in me.

Meanwhile, the Little Miss has been potty training for the last several week. She has been out of diaper, for the most part, for two week, and goes to school with “big girl” underwear. The last several days, when I’ve picked the kids up, the Little Miss has had no dirty clothes to bring home. She has made it the entire day at school without an accident. This is a big deal. She had been doing this at home, for the most part, but was struggling with it a little at school. In part, I think this was due to the teachers being a little overwhelmed–they are not used to potty training children in the toddler classroom. It also means that we will soon be a no diaper family, and after four-and-a-half years of regularly buying diapers, we can drop those items from our list.

Both of these milestones are also a reminder of just how quickly the kids are growing up. The Little Man is nearly 4-1/2 years old, and the Little Miss turned 2 in August. The Little Man is writing his name, and I suspect that the Little Miss, with her quick mind, will soon be doing the same. And the Little Miss is nearly done with diapers. The “baby” phase of our life is complete, and the “toddler” phase is rapidly receding into the past.

My Almost-Perfect Evening with the Kids

Kelly went out to dinner with friends last night and I was home with the kids. Usually, this involves a lot of effort on my part (a lot more than Kelly would spend–she is much more efficient with the kids than I am), but last night turned out to be unusual because it was very easy.

The kids played, watched Disney, ate some treats and were well-behaved. When it was time to go upstairs to get ready for bed, they both cooperated. They watched their cartoons and allowed me to get some writing in. When I put the Little Man to bed, the Little Miss was a model of cooperation and helpfulness. Afterward, she fell asleep in the crook of my arm, and by the time Kelly got home, she was out cold.

In fact, the only thing I didn’t manage to do–for sheer lack of time–was take the trash out; something that could easily be done in the morning.

Kelly got home and I was so proud of the fact that both kids were in bed and the Little Miss was sleeping. I think even Kelly was surprised. She asked if both kids were asleep, and I told her the Little Man might still be awake, waiting to kiss her goodnight, so she went into check on him. The conversation went something like this:

Kelly: Hey, buddy, did you have fun?”

Little Man: Uh-huh.

Kelly: You get a good night’s sleep.

Little Man: I’m hungry. Daddy didn’t give us dinner.

Of course, he was right. I did not give them dinner because I’d somehow gotten it into my head that they’d eaten before Kelly left. The Little Man never said anything to me about being hungry.

And, of course, what seemed to be a perfect, well-managed evening, was now mush.

We gave the Little Man a snack, which made him happy, and I apologized to him. While he was eating, I said, “I’m really sorry, buddy. I didn’t realize you hadn’t had dinner and I didn’t know. I’m really, really sorry.”

The Little Man said, “It’s okay, Daddy, it happens to everyone.” I found this statement, spoken with such cheerfulness, both amazing and touching in a four-year old.

I tried to make a joke. I said, “Well, I guess tonight I was a bad daddy.”

“Nah,” the Little Man said, “I think you are ‘still-good-daddy.'”

After his snack the Little Man fell asleep, happy, and I tossed and turned for a while, still uncertain of how I could have missed that they hadn’t had dinner. But I didn’t feel too bad. After all, as the Little Man said, I was “still-good daddy” in his eyes. Making him the Not-So-Little Man of the evening.

“Daddy’s Working All the Time!”

The Little Man, who turned four back in June, is definitely becoming more aware of what is going on around him. He notices more and understands more which is both wonderful and frightening. To illustrate the latter, let me give an example from yesterday (or possibly a few days ago; I am not certain.)

We were planning to go somewhere. I think it was the Falls Church Farmer’s Market. I was in my home office, at the computer, catching up on email or something. I was ready to go, but the kids were still getting ready.

The Little Miss said, “Daddy coming?”

The Little Man replied, “No, Daddy’s working all the time.”

Well, that got me. Actually, I was going–we all went–but the fact that the Little Man was noticing how much I was working, either day-job related stuff, or writing-related stuff, hit home a bit. If he was noticing, how could anyone else miss it? It is a tricky position to find yourself in. The Little Man is old enough to see that I am “working all the time” and his default expectation is that I am not going on an outing, which makes me feel good about his sensitivity to others and his ability to pick up cues; and it makes me feel bad about not going out with them as much because I am “working all of the time.”

On the other hand, I don’t think he is old enough to understand that I am attempting to do something I have always wanted to do, which is write. I have to work a full time day job in order to help pay the bills; writing certainly doesn’t do that. But writing, like anything else, requires lots and lots of practice and I still hope that all the practice I put in will one day pay off. I have tried to adjust my writing schedule so that it interferes as little as possible with the kids, but there are aspects to being a freelance writer that really have nothing to do with writing that take up time and that fills on those gaps that I’ve tried to keep clear. In a way, it is like bailing out a sinking ship. You can get it clear of water, but only temporarily. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself bailing again.

If nothing else, it has alerted me to the fact that the Little Man, at least, is noticing how much time I spend working, and that some of that time is at his expense. It means I need to make some adjustments, to make sure that I am spending enough time with him and the Little Miss and that the writing does not appear to get in the way of that.  More than likely it means being more flexible, both in when I write and when the Little Man (or Little Miss) wants to do something. I have to write. It is in my blood. And yet, the last thing I want to do is look back on these years and regret not spending more time with the kids.