Category Archives: My Kids and Family

The lie I am happy to tell my kids

When you are 6 and 3, there are a few truths. White milk tastes better in a pink cup. Peas can never touch the potatoes. And on Christmas Eve, a fat guy in a red suit will somehow squeeze down the chimney and leave presents under the tree.

If there is one thing my kids believe in with absolute conviction is that something magical will happen on Christmas Eve. There is not even an inkling of doubt that what happens 6 days from now will not be real. The fact that Santa couldn’t be real is inconceivable – a possibility that has never entered their consciousness.

For weeks now, the talk around our house has been of Christmas. Of the family and friends we have coming, of the meals we will prepare, of the parties we will be going to. All of this is adding to their excitement level. They are vibrating with anticipation.

When The Girl was born my wife and I struggled with the mythology of the season. Is it okay to lie to your kids? Because, window dress it all you like, it is a lie.

It’s a struggle Chad at Vancouver Parent has been blogging about in an  excellent series of articles which has provoked tons of response, including some supposedly from kids who stumbled across his article in Google and had their world shattered. Chad, I don’t think you need to lose sleep over this one. It’s an inevitable fact that they would have found out anyway.

In the end, our decision was that childhood is a place where fairies and magic, bunnies that leave chocolate eggs, and fat guys who bring toys exist. In the culture we have grown up in, this mythology is part of of what makes childhood special and unique. The absolute conviction that this stuff is real is a big part of “the magic”.

In my twenties I spent many years working in commercial radio. During that time I grew to despise Christmas. Christmas just meant I had to work twice as hard selling people stuff. I spent countless hours locked in a voiceover studio pumping out commercial after commercial. My on location work tripled, and  Christmas Eve was often spent on location at various businesses around town trying to do a last minute pitch jobs on sweaters and stereo equipment, only to pick up the pitch on Boxing Day. By the time I hit 30, I was done with Christmas, and with commercial radio.

Since then Christmas has slowly became a more meaningful time of year. But it hasn’t been until this year that I have truly felt that mythical “magic” of the season. It feels like when I was a kid, and I attribute this to the fact that my kids are entering their peak Christmas years. They get it, and their excitement is infectious. I find that I am anxiously looking forward to a 6am wake up call to witness the magic unfold.

I am mindful that this will only last for a few years. The Girl is smart. She asks questions. And this years unwavering belief could become shadowed next as she spends more time with peers and in school with bigger kids. This may be the only year where they both live with the absolute reality that magic still exists. And I am going to soak it up.

As tough as the lifegrind sometimes seems to be, I know that when I am a drooling old fart these are the days that I will look back on as the best days of my life. And part of that is tied to the fact that I am feeding off the excitement of my kids. They are making this a magical time of the year for me, too. I am having so much fun with them as we all get swept up.

You see, in the end, it is really all about me. Selfish old me. I tell them the lie because I want them to believe in the magic because their belief is MY magic. It ‘s a magic that weaves an intoxicating spell over me and sweeps me up in tides of gushing sentimentalism.

The lie is not a lie we parents tell our kids, it’s a lie parents tell to ourselves because we want to believe. We want these moments to be pure and sparkling and live long in our memories. The lie becomes a device – an excuse we use to generate the energy and the excitement that heightens all senses, which helps to indelibly burn these shared family moments into our memories for years.

This year, for the first time since I believed the lie myself, I do believe in the magic of Christmas because I am living it with my kids. And that is why I am happy I told the lie.


How High School Musical warps my sons reality

Considering I am not a big fan of much of the  pop culture aimed at youth, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed High School Musical. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised. After all I was a drama geek in high school, went to drama summer camp, and grew up on a diet of Grease and Fame. I was probably one of the few who not only saw The Pirate Movie when it came out in the early 80’s, but believed Kristy McNichol should have won an Oscar. So maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised to learn that I actually like the High School Musical movies.

For the most part, the messages are positive, the role models are decent and the skank factor for the girls is not off the chart (you can read the review from Common Sense Media & get their take on the series). Even the mean girl is not all that mean, and most of the movies are good clean fun with lots of dancing & singing that I expected my ballet loving singing & dancing daughter would respond to. And she did.

What I didn’t expect was the way my son would react. He also loves them, not so much for the singing and dancing, but because of the sports. High School Musical has turned my son into a full fledged wannabe jock. You name it – basketball, baseball, golf, he wants to try it all, and I have spent a good deal of my summer in the backyard shooting Little Tikes hoops and tossing balls for him to whack at with his plastic bats. It has been a hoot to see him get so excited about sports, whatever the source of his inspiration.

There is one problem, however (hence the title of the post). Knowing his love of all things baseball recently, I decided to introduce him to the sport at the pro level, so we sat down to watch a game on TV. After watching for about 10 minutes, the little guy turned to me.

“Dad.”

“Yes.”

“When do they start dancing?”

Seems that in his HSM influenced world, this is how ball games go.

Let’s see Roy Halladay bust it like that!

I remember the first time my child…

Parenting is full of all kinds of big first moments; first steps, first smile, first time your kid says daddy. And then there are the little firsts that don’t seem as big, yet somehow seem to have just as much significance. I had one of those little first moments with The Girl yesterday morning.

Our usual morning routine when I drop her of at playschool is like this. After giving her a goodbye hug and kiss, I leave and walk down the front steps of the preschool. At the bottom I stop and turn around. The pre-school has a big bay window in the front of it overlooking the street and every morning there is my girl, standing in the window, smiling and waving goodbye to me.

I begin to walk down the street until I hear a tap at the window behind me. I turn around and there she is, still smiling and waving. I wave back. I go a few more steps down the street, stop and turn around. She is still standing in the window, watching me walk away. She smiles and waves. I smile and wave back. I go a few more steps, stop, turn and wave. She is still there and returns the wave.  We repeat our turn and wave 3 or 4 times as I walk down the street. Sometimes I turn around and she is making a silly face in the window. Sometimes, I do the same and we share a little giggle. It’s a private moment in a public place – a moment of connection and transition for both my daughter and myself and it continues until I am around the corner and out of sight of the daycare window.

We have done our window dance every daycare & preschool morning  for the past 2 1/2 years. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, after I walked down the steps of the preschool, I turned around to wave. She wasn’t at the window. I paused, waiting for her happy little face to appear in the window.  After a moment, still no girl in the window.  I waited a bit longer. Still no girl. Slowly it dawned on me that maybe she wasn’t coming to the window.

I began to walk slowly away from the preschool, stopping and turning every few steps and hoping I would see her face in the window waving at me. But each time was the same – no smiling girl waving goodbye to her dad. After 3 turns to look back, I finally did catch a glimpse of her through the big preschool bay window. She was laughing and running around with her friends, oblivious that her dad was standing on the street looking in, wishing that she would come to the window to wave goodbye.

She wasn’t coming.

I continued walking down the street, occasionally glancing back just in case she had taken up her usual spot and was waving and smiling at me walking away. But she never appeared, caught up in her own little world of friends and play inside the preschool. And I realized that each time I turned around and she wasn’t there, I felt a little bit sadder.

It seems like such a silly little thing to remember – the first time my girl didn’t come to the window to wave goodbye to me in our morning ritual. But for some reason, this little first moment has stuck with me. All day yesterday it kept replaying over and over in my head, implanting itself into some remote memory brain cells. I don’t know why. But it is a first moment that obviously has hit me at some level to make me want to wake up at 5 am and document it here for some future me to look back on and remember.

Maybe I read too much into this little moment. That somehow this is not some kind of sign that she is growing more independent and doesn’t require the comfort of her dad waving goodbye to her to signal that everything is okay and right in the world. More likely she probably just got caught up in her own little world.

But I am going to use this moment as a good reminder to stop and pay attention to those little everyday things and realize that when it comes to parenting, those little things are often just as important as those big milestones. It’s a realization that in the midst of the chaos that is our lives right now, I am experiencing just as many significant firsts as my kids. They may not be as developmentally big as taking a first step or uttering a first word, but they are big and significant in their own little way, even if the reasons why are not always obvious. And maybe they don’t have to be.

Duct Tape Flip Flops

Duct tape flip flop

My wife won a contest last week through a local parenting magazine called Island Parent. As a prize my wife got to pick anything they had on their prize table. She and The Girl went down to the magazine office on Monday to claim their prize.

After scanning the assorted books, toys, tickets and related stuff on the prize table for a few minutes, The Girl’s eyes stopped and became fixed on something. My wife looked at the book The Girl was checking out. It was titled Got Tape?: Roll Out the Fun With Duct Tape!. How could she resist? Their first project? The pair of flip flops in the photo above. I sense a new suit is in the works for Father’s Day.

Bob Marley, McFerrin whatever

G rocking out to the right Bob

This is a tragic tale.

Last fall I went to the Experience Music Project in Seattle. While there I bought my son a very fun shirt with a picture of Bob Marley on it and a caption that says “B is for Bob” (like this one). He loved it and it quickly became his favorite piece of clothing.

Since he got that shirt, Bob Marley has been in high rotation in our house, and The Boy has been singing along with Bob and the Wailers. His favorite is Three Little Birds. It’s damn adorable to hear him sing the song. If you are not familiar, it’s one of the most optimistic songs on the face of the earth. It starts:

Don’t worry
about a thing.
Cause every little thing
is gonna be all right

This is where it gets tragic.

One day, the (seriously fantastic in all respects except this one) daycare workers at his daycare saw him wearing his Bob shirt and heard him fumbling out the lyric, “don’t worry”. For some reason, they filled in the next line with “be happy.” As in don’t worry, be happy by another Bob – Bobby McFerrin. So now they have gone one step further and, thinking that Graeme loves that song, have got it on a CD and are playing it in the daycare in high rotation for him. He is being brainwashed by Bobby McFerrin.

Now, Bobby McFerrin is a mighty fine musician in his own right and has produced some excellent music beyond the unfortunate phenomenon that was Don’t Worry, Be Happy. But he ain’t no Bob Marley. And now somehow my son is getting it into his head that Bob Marley sings “don’t worry, be happy.” And THAT, my friends, is a tragedy.

Waiting for all hell to break loose (but we’ll still give them goodie bags when they trash the house)

Snowman cookies

Snowman cookies ready for the goodie bag

I don’t know what we were thinking. Tomorrow we will be invaded by an army of preschoolers, many with their younger siblings and parents in tow. For tomorrow, The Girl turns 5.

It feels like this birthday party has taken on a life of it’s own. What started as a small affair with 5 friends has somehow tripled in size. There will be 14 kids here between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. Add in at least a parent, maybe 2 for each and we are going to have a houseful.

In the living room, my wife is putting the finishing touches on some of the goodie bags. Like many, we wrestled with whether to do goodie bags or not. But I know that The Girl looks forward to that bag of trinkets when she goes to a party. Let’s face it – kids LOOOOVE goodie bags. Plus, I think it is a nice lesson in gratitude for our kids to learn. These kids were nice enough to come to the party, so let’s thank them for their time and generosity by giving them a little something in return.

The one thing we did decide about the goodie bags was to forgo the cheap plastic dollar store crap and try to go for something homemade and useful. So my wife, being the crafty girl she is, has been working with Maggie this week baking and crafting up a storm of goodie bag treats. The package includes a homemade sugar cookie Maggie and Mom decorated as a snowman (snowmen are the theme), a small picture frame from the local craft store that the kids can colour with markers, and a package of “snowman soup” – hot chocolate mix with a couple marshmallows, kiss and a candy cane stir stick that we had leftover from Christmas. Simple, tasty and no trinkets. I think the kids will like it. Hell, it’s cookies and chocolate, what’s not to love?

So, wish me luck. We have batten down the hatches, hidden as many breakables as possible and have stocked up on copious amounts of wine to help us deal with the aftermath tomorrow night. But this ain’t about us. There is only one person I hope has a great time tomorrow. Happy birthday, my girl!

The fear of a five year old

Last night I was getting The Girl ready for her bath when, out of the blue,  she suddenly got quite upset and started crying. At first I thought it was a bath stall tactic, but as it went on I realized that her state was sincere and she really was upset about something important.

My mind quickly floods with horrible possibilities. Did something happen at daycare today? Was there an altercation with another kid? Did she get hurt?

“Maggie, what’s wrong?”

Between sobs she spurts out, “I’m scared.”

“What are you scared of?”

“Lasers.”

Oh.

9 tips to enjoy The Nutcracker with your kid

A Nutcracker for Christmas
Image by clickykbd via Flickr

On Sunday The Girl and I took in the Alberta Ballet‘s (fantastic) production of The Nutcracker. It has been many years since I have been to a production and I was looking forward to it as much as The Girl.

She had a wonderful time, and has since been carrying her nutcracker around the house, pretending she is Clara, with me playing the part of Herr Drosselmeyer.

It was an expensive gamble. Money in our house (like many homes) is tight and my wife and I talked about whether the $100 was money well spent. So, if you are thinking of shelling out the dough to take in this annual Christmas tradition in your neck of the woods, here are a few tips that might be handy to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

As with any “parent tip”, results may vary – greatly – depending on your kid. Mine is going to be 5 in January, so these are written with that age in mind.

  1. Know the story before you go. Knowing the story, and what to expect, ahead of time prepares them for what will come. For some kids, the fight scene between the soldiers and the mice can be especially frightening and confusing. YouTube has clips from various productions of  The Nutcracker. There is also a full length production (about 90 minutes) available online, and PBS has a nice synopsis of the story.
  2. Pick a matinee. Chances are it will be loaded with kids and a bit more kid friendly.
  3. Take the opportunity to dress up. A few days before we went, my daughter turned to my wife and said, “Is Dad going to wear something distinguished?” Of course, I couldn’t disappoint a request like that, so out came the old suit and tie. She (being 4 and a girl) had no problem getting decked out in appropriate attire. It added an extra element of specialness to the event. But be sure whatever you wear is comfortable.
  4. Avoid the temptation to bring a friend. Friends can be distracting, and it is challenging enough to focus one preschooler, let alone 2. It also avoids the potential problem that could arise if one wants to leave and the other wants to stay.
  5. Explain theater etiquette beforehand, but don’t be ruled by it. Explain that theater is different than a movie. The people are real, and they people in the audience like to listen to the music and pay attention to the dancers. People clap when they like something on stage, and there is a break 1/2 way through the show. But it would be impossible to expect a preschooler to be completely still and focused for 45 minutes, so don’t get on their case if they start getting fidgety. Instead try to refocus them on what is happening on stage. Chances are, they may have lost the plot and are confused as to what is going on.
  6. Bring a small booster seat. Check with the theatre beforehand to make sure this is okay.
  7. It’s okay to talk (okay whisper) to your kid during the show. Hardcore theatre goers may disagree with this, but some whispering to explain the plot is okay with me. Keep it brief, and keep it focused on the show. My girl loved that I would occasionally lean over and whisper in her ear, drawing her attention to things she might like on stage or in the orchestra pit. I also tried to explain what was going on if she looked lost.
  8. Be prepared to bail. If, after the first act, your kid is bored and you sense the second half isn’t going to be fun for either of you, leave and console yourself that you had a nice first act together.
  9. Make it live on. Talk to them about the show after it is over. Ask them what they liked, didn’t like. What they thought of the dancing.  Save the tickets and the playbill and display them around the house for a few days.

Finally, if you still want to give your kids the joy of The Nutcracker but are worried about attending a live performance, Cineplex will be carrying the National Ballet’s live performances this holiday season, live in HD at a movie theatre near you.

Are we outsourcing our memories?

I have a distributed family – brother in Alberta, parents on the prairies, aunts, uncles and cousins scattered everywhere. One of the primary reasons for this blog was to keep those folks up to date on what was happening with my (then newly arrived) daughter. A blog seemed like the best way to do that.

Fast forward to 2008 and there are now a plethora of ways you can keep far flung family and friends informed of the little one’s first anything. Totspot, Kidmondo and Lil’ Grams are three web services that allow parents to easily store and organize your babies firsts. And there is a new site in beta called Odadeo, targeted directly to us Dad’s.

First off, I think these services are great, and go a long way to avoiding having to send out a hundred emails to everyone who you think might be interested in little Billy’s first toddle.

But beyond their usefulness, these services provide further evidence to me that we are undergoing a profound cultural change. Undoubtedly, we are beginning to raise the most documented generation of people in the history of civilization. Every moment of our kids lives are being not only captured, but digitally manipulated, stored and shared via our outboard brains. What is this going to mean to them in the future? And what is it going to mean for me, the person documenting this?

Marta Strickland has been thinking about this as well. In a recent post she mused about posting our kids life online before they are even aware they have a life.

With every YouTube video we post, with every Flickr photo gallery that we build, we are building a digital lifestream for our children when they are too young to even understand that we are sharing their lives

Is it convenient to have these services, or is it what the New York Times recently called baby overshare? Are we parents somehow co-opting our babies lives and playing out our own narcissism? Hey, look at me and what I have produced! World, take notice that I can reproduce! It seems to me that this baby thing is becoming quite, um, hip (which is a whole other post).

Personally, I appreciate the convenience and ability to share information about my kids with people close to me. If someone wants to find out what is happening in my kids life, they know where to look.

But I always have to balance that desire to share with respecting my kids rights. I post and share with their voice in the back of my head, imagining that they will someday troll back through the interwebs and find this stuff. How are they going to react? Or are they even going to care? My hope is that they will look back on the content I have created about their lives with joy and tenderness and realize it came from a place of love and was triggered by the joy of becoming a Dad.

But really, I do this for me. I post so I can remember. I post so I can process. I post to help me understand.

Recently I spent some time on this blog, digging around the archives, cleaning up things (hopefully in preparation of a visual upgrade of the site, so if the site changes soon don’t be shocked.). In the process of doing that, I found articles I had written years ago that I had forgot about. They are mostly the little ones, the ones that usually go unnoticed by most readers. The personal ones. Coming across them makes me reflective, makes me remember and makes me smile. And that is why I document.

A lunch with Mom

Kids are both in daycare today. Mom snuck home for lunch. I walked down the hill from work to join her. It’s the first time in I don’t know how long since the 2 of us have been alone in the house together with no kids.

No kids. Just her and I. Alone in the house. So naturally, we took advantage of the situation. She did the dishes and some telephone banking while I paid some bills, put away a bit of laundry and filed tax receipts. Before we knew it our time had passed and back to work we went.

You were expecting something else?

Sigh…how times have changed. But it was sure nice to carry on a running conversation with my wife in our kitchen without the constant tug at the pantleg or toodler mayhem raging in the background.