Category Archives: Dad to Dad

Time to add some nuance to the phrase “screen time”

This post is borne out of the occasional frustrating conversations I’ve had with other parents at my kids school.

I am part of the PAC at our elementary (k-5) school, and we have just begun talking about adding WiFi to our school as a number of teachers want to use more technology in the classroom. are curious to use it. But there is resistance among some parents about technology use in schools, and often this hesitancy is hidden behind the coded phrase “screen time”.

You see, “screen time” is bad. “Screen time” is why they don’t want technology in the classroom. Too much “screen time”. Battles with kids at home about “screen time”.

The evil “screen time”.

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone use the phrase ‘screen time” and mean it in a positive way.

But what does that phrase really mean? What is hiding behind the words? It’s a question I am beginning to ask more and more when people brush aside the entire spectrum of technology use with the generic “too much screen time” argument. Well, what do you mean by “screen time”?

Do you mean too much reading books? Because that happens on a screen. When is the last time you told your kid to stop reading a book?

Or do you mean you are worried about too much making music? Because in our house (and in many other places) making music is just as likely to occur using a screen with a physical keyboard hooked up to a computer as it is with a guitar. The screen is an important piece in the music making arsenal in our house.

Or do you mean too many YouTube videos? Well, in the past 2 weeks my kids have watched their fair share of YouTube videos, including a number of music & cat videos. But they have also watched videos on how to do arts & crafts projects like create stuff on a rainbow loom and draw bat wings (my son is currently a bit obsessed with bats thanks to recently reading the Kenneth Opel SilverWing series). My son has also watched soccer videos to pick up some new skills for his upcoming camp. And my daughter loves watching Mythbusters clips, learning to debunk popular myths and develop some critical thinking skills.

My son learning how to use the rainbow loom via YouTube videos created by other kids

Or do you mean stop learning about the world? One of my sons favorite activities on the screen is to cruise the world in Google Earth, especially Japan. He has begun to use Google Streetview to get a better understanding of what life in a Japanese city might be like.

Or what about playing games? We play games in front of screens. My son plays Minecraft and loves building. When he was interested in Kung Fu, he built a dojo in Minecraft. When we read that Silverwing series, he built locations from the book. For him, building in Minecraft is an extension of what he is curious about in his life. He reads or sees something, then he builds. And in the process, he gains a better understanding of what it was that he read or saw. He also does this with Lego, but Minecraft is what he loves building in.

I play World of Warcraft with my kids (and they only play when I am there with them). We work together as a team to solve complex quests. We have fun – as a family – solving problems and supporting each other. How is this worse than sitting down as a family on a Friday night and playing Rummoli at the kitchen table (which we also do)? Simply because there is a screen involved? We’re spending time together as a family.

I loved that both kids felt “famous” when they had leveled up enough that their avatars become visible in the WoW community.

WoWWho cares that there are screens? In fact, through our participation in the virtual world of WoW, I am able to pass on valuable lessons in digital literacy and participating in virtual communities – what to look out for, who to trust, how to interact with other characters and remind them there are real people at the other end of those avatars. And be prepared to deal with jerks I wish my kids teachers would be doing the same. Modelling for my kids what it is like to participate in a virtual community, showing my kids how to behave in a discussion forum, what appropriate commenting is, and how to learn from the network. But I digress….

What about screens make you unhealthy? Well, this comes down to balance. My son plays soccer, my daughter dances. My daughter has a FitBit and spends her days working towards the goal of 10,000 steps. She often checks her screen to see how she is doing. It keeps her motivated. My daughter and I also dance together with the Wii – in front of a big screen in our living room.

My daughter and I getting our heart rate up.

Or do you mean “too much expressing yourself artistically?” My son has taken his passion for bats and those previously mentioned Kenneth Oppel books and is using a screen based word processor to write his own sequel to the series because he was unhappy with how the books ended and left him hanging. He is just learning to spell, and the auto spell checking in Word that underlines misspelled words is helping him to see where his mistakes are. Do I stop this because he is doing on a screen? How is this a bad thing? Isn’t this creative? How is it different than if he was doing this on paper with a pencil? Would I stop him from writing a book because he is spending too much time with a pencil and paper?

Or my daughter, who is learning to draw and do art on a tablet? Why is that worse than doing it on paper with a pencil (which she does as well)? In fact, both my kids float from screen to “real life” as if the distinction is meaningless. And it is.

Or do you mean “too much time with their friends”? Well, my kids have virtual email pen pals. Their virtual pen pals have lost grandparents, won sports competitions, they have shared artwork and learned what life is like in their part of the world. In short, they are learning that there are real people on the other end of that screen. How is this different than if it were paper letters? Why is this worse simply because it involves a screen?

So, I think it is time to banish the term “screen time” when we have conversations about the role of technology in our lives. In my experience, it is being used as a wet blanket, a catch-all designed to stop important conversations before they have a chance to happen. It is time for us to begin to have a more nuanced conversation about what that term means, and unpack the meaning hiding behind the term. What do people really mean when they say they are worried about “screen time” in schools? Because in the end, I don’t think it is really the screens people are worried about. It is how those screens are used. And that is a conversation we cannot have until we move past “screen time” and begin to talk about specifics.

Thank you, Internet Archive

I started this blog in 2004 when my daughter was just under a year old. In those days, blogging was still a pretty technical thing. Other than Blogger, there was not a lot of options on the web for hosting a blog unless you did it yourself. So I did. I mean, I really did it myself. I bought an old surplus computer and turned it into a web server. I installed a copy of WordPress (then called b2) and went at ‘er. 

I was young. I was reckless. Backups? We don’t need no stinkin’ backups.

I was writing like a machine. Blog posts popped up everyday…sometimes 2 or 3 a day. I was a partial stay at home Dad with a young daughter who took long afternoon naps. Time was endless. Funny, because at the time I can remember thinking I didn’t have a lot of time and I was soooooo busy. How our perceptions of time can get so warped by whatever stage we are in our life. Oh, to have the time I thought I didn’t have then, now.

It was inevitable that some kind of disaster would strike my fragile, perilous second hand DIY web server, and in 2005 it did. My server died. No backups. Well, some backups, but rather haphazard. At the time I didn’t think nothing of it. I remember thinking, “ah well, I lost a few blog posts, no big whoop”.

Fast forward a half dozen years and an idle night playing on the Wayback Machine provided by the Internet Archive. Hmmm, I wonder…

I type in and what pops up makes me kick myself for not doing this sooner. And for being so damn cavalier about the information I lost.

As I sift through this archive of posts, I am swept back to a time that seems so long ago, yet was so recent. 2005. Just 7 years ago. I am reading posts about moving out of our first house when my daughter was 2. 

Our first house. Her only house.

The reasons are valid: not enough space, a backyard that remains flooded from November to March, no dining room, too much tripping over each other. Yet it is still sad to leave the memories, like walking into this house with the girl the very first time. That moment when her Mom and I exchanged a sideways glance that we both knew meant, “This is it. We’re on our own. Now what?” I never knew one glance could reveal so much information.

This is the bedroom where we first stayed up all night with a sick girl, throwing up over and over and forcing us to cancel a (rare) planned weekend trip away from home that we had both been looking forward to. Another sideways glance. Ah well, I guess this is what being a parent is all about.

Memories of the frustrations of being the stay at home parent of a 2 year old.

Like I said, some days just seem harder than others. The extra struggle trying to get her dressed as she flops around like an electrified octopus, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs. The extra effort of trying to strap a 2×4 into a car seat so you won’t be late for her play group. Trying to play United Nations peacemaker with the other kids, negotiating the landmine of 2 pushcars for 30 kids. The extra concentration required while you try to carry on a phone conversation with a roofer with a human fog horn strapped to your leg bellowing DADDYDADDYDADDYDADDY! And the constant demands for upeee, uppeeee, upppeeeee.

Some days it is all I can do from screaming TAKE ME AWAY FROM HERE! Get me back to the sanity of backstabbing co-workers and bastard bosses. Of impossible deadlines and even more impossible budgets. Take me back to sanity of the real world.

Surviving my first parental experience with puke

Maggie puked on me for the first time. Not a little baby spit up after an over the shoulder burp – but a full-on, gut emptying, projectile spewing geyser. At one point, I swear I saw her kidney come up.

I knew the moment would eventually come and I had been dreading it. Smell is a powerful sense for me, and I don’t do well with foul scent. My wife discovered this about me when we walked into our house once after spending a month traveling in Turkey only to find our freezer had crapped out sometime between Gallipoli and Istanbul. She quickly realized I wouldn’t be much help digging the previously frozen blackberries and chicken out from the bottom of the dearly departed freezer.

Mom was at work today, so it was just Maggie and me – poor girl. She has been sick in the past, but never quite this sick. So I carried her off to the bathroom and stripped us both down. I toyed with giving her a bath, but she was looking quite stunned, and I couldn’t quite bare the thought of inflicting a bath on her when it looked like the only thing she wanted to do was crash. So I wiped her off as best I could, dressed her and gave her some water. Ten minutes later she was fast asleep on my chest. A chest, I must admit, that was a bit bigger knowing that I had handled my first major vomit situation with my breakfast intact.

The voice of the 2005 me. The new Dad me.

I haven’t recovered everything. I know there was more. But what I did manage to recover is better than gold. And now has been transferred to this blog. With weekly backups. Hosted on redundant servers. And tonight, I am hugely grateful to the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine.

Fair does not mean equal

Been having some challenges with my kids and getting them to understand the principal that fair does not always mean equal.

Case in point last week. My son had to spend a few hours in an isolation ward in emergency at the hospital (it’s okay – he’s fine). But during the course of the 6 hour stay he got stuck in an isolation room and poked and prodded by Dr’s and nurses. When he was finished and released, we wanted to reward him with a little something, so I picked up a little Star Wars light sabre for him that he has been eyeing up for the past few weeks. This prompted a “hey, that’s not fair” from his older sister. I tried to explain why it actually was fair, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

It works both ways. At 7, my daughter has been doing summer camps this year and having a great time. This has led to some “that’s not fair” resentment from my 4 year old pre-school son.

My kids have this sense that unless everything is exactly equal, things are unfair. But yet, they are different kids – different people with different interests and (at 7 and 4) different abilities. Why would you want things to be exactly equal in those circumstances? Yet somehow, they have this feeling that unless they get exactly the same things and are treated exactly the same, then one is getting more.

It used to drive me nuts when my parents would get me and my brother and sister the exact same thing at Christmas in an attempt to keep things equal, but I understand the temptation to do this now that I have kids of my own and am fighting the “it’s not fair” battle. I made the mistake of snapping at one last week “well, life isn’t fair”. Fortunately, my wife caught me and put a stop to that line of thought.

So, how do you handle the fair, but not equal battle at your house?

When the marketing department gets involved

Maybe funnier for me because today my girl turns 7 so we are right in birthday mode.

Who taught you to be a good Dad?

Just discovered a great new Dad podcast, Dads Unplugged, which introduced me to the work of John Badalament, author of The Modern Dad’s Dilemma: How to Stay Connected with Your Kids in a Rapidly Changing World. John was interviewed recently on the Dads Unplugged podcast, and he got me thinking about a great many things about being a Dad.

One of things John mentioned in the interview that has resonated with me is his question of who taught you to be a Dad? John says that no one ever talked to him about Fatherhood. No one ever told him when he was a boy that they believed had what it takes to be a good Dad.

It’s more than missing mentors and role models. In fact, I think we have a lot of models and mentors for great Dads around  (and, as an aside, I think there have always been great Dads – it’s not necessarily something new with our generation. I have something percolating in the back of my head about this so called “changing role of Dad” thing that I am suddenly finding irksome, but that’s another post). It’s just that there is not a lot of open discussion about what it takes to be a great Dad with those who matter the most – our sons.

I am not talking about publicly writing our blog posts, or carrying out these conversations over beers or on Facebook with each other, as important as those activities are. We Dads ARE connecting and having those discussions about what it takes to be a Dad. That is happening.

But what John says is missing are those conversations we have with the boys in our lives about what it takes to be a great Dad. It is about arming them with the belief and the confidence that they have the tools within them to someday be great Dads theselves, and then seizing the opportunities as they come up to help them refine those tools.

I am guilty. I don’t think I have ever consciously thought that while I am playing with my son I am preparing him to be a Dad. I am preparing my son for lots of things in his life. How to work as part of a team, how to think for himself, how to solve problems, how to treat and respect women, how to tie his shoes. But I haven’t ever consciously thought that I should be teaching him to be a great Dad.

I can’t tell you how uncomfortable typing that last line made me feel. Like I have just discovered some innate truth that I should have known all along. But the truth is, it is something that  had never occurred to me, beyond consciously trying to be the best Dad/Husband I can be in the hopes that I can model behaviour for him. But what John is saying is, while that is important, modelling alone isn’t enough – we have to be explicit and act consciously if we want our sons to be great Dads. As powerful as our modelling is, we can’t expect that our sons are going to get it just by observing our actions. It is, I think, an important point, and one that I need to pay attention to.

Here is some more from John.

My Dad doing his Christmas thing

My Dad's Christmas decorations

This is my Dad. Over the years he has taken some friendly ribbing about his enthusiastic Christmas decorations. It got worse once Christmas Vacation was released and we now had a name to lovingly hang on my Dad – Clark W Griswald. My Dad had so many cutouts, lights and decorations on our yard that they actually spilled over to the neighbours yard.

We grew up in a small town, and I have vivid (and sometimes embarrassing) memories of the traffic being backed up on our street Christmas Eve, flashbulbs popping as strangers took pictures of our house. I’m certain the flashes were redundant.

A few years ago, my retired parents moved from the town I grew up in to the town they grew up in. A province away. I thought that would have been the end of the decorations, considering they alone would probably fill a 1 ton U-Haul. But Dad packed them all up and took them and has continued the tradition at their new home.

As I get older with my own kids and spend more time in my childhood memories than is probably healthy, I have come to deeply appreciate this tradition that my Dad worked hard to carry on. Traditions are important. They are the glue that holds family together across time. And as the years go by, I have this feeling of pride in the fact that my Dad brought smiles to many faces, and probably contributed to a few other families Christmas traditions – the Christmas Eve drive-by of the Lalonde house.

Nice work, Chuck.

A terrifying first walk

Yes, I like to write about firsts. Maybe because as a parent there are so many of them.

I remember how terrified both my wife and I were when we first walked in the door to our house with a fresh, new baby girl bundled in our arms. We both just stood there, shell shocked from the seismic change that had just occurred in our lives, unaware of what having this new baby would really mean or even what we should do next. That feeling does gradually wear off. But it occasionally rears it’s quease-inducing head when we are presented with a new challenge we have never dealt with before. In the early days, it was the basics – first diaper changes, first solid foods, first baths. Today, it’s first day of classes, first time on skates, and first sleepover.

This week’s episode of This American Life, the excellent radio program from PBS, has a story of a Dad who undertakes a first with his four month old daughter – their first walk around the block together. This doesn’t seem like it should be terrifying. But for Dad Ryan Knighton, it was. His story is the first one in this weeks TAL (about 6:30 in in) and it hooked me. Don’t worry. No one gets hurt. It’s just a compelling story of a first for a Dad who experiences life from a different perspective.

Besides being a dad, I do have this in common with Ryan. I have also been asked if I am looking for Mom when pushing my kids in a stroller :).

Ryan has written a book about his parenting experiences called C’mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark

When do you end the bedtime bath?

As a parenting strategy to help your life go smoother, it’s hard to argue with the tried and true strategy of established routines. One of the routines we have with our kids is the evening bath, which we use as the transition to bedtime.

For my 6 year old daughter, her bedtime routine has consisted of a bath before bed every night (save the very rare occasion) since she was a baby. But lately I have begun to wonder at what age does the bedtime bath stop and can be removed as part of the bedtime routine?

An evening bath does serve another purpose other than acting as the starting point in the bedtime routine, which is, of course, hygiene. But the primary reason we (and I suspect most) parents have an evening bath has more to do with routine than cleanliness, and running a bath each and every night is not exactly an environmentally friendly act.

So, my question is – at what age do you/did you begin phasing out the evening bath as part of the bedtime routine?

Photo: Big Fun by Ernst Moeksi used under Creative Commons license

A post for soon to be new Dads

Jim over at Sweet Juniper has created one of those wonderful posts that somehow manages to encapsulate exactly what being a Dad is.  A funny, sweet, sad, frustrating, and intimately poignant snapshot of a day in the life of one Dad.

I can especially relate to the moment he shares with his daughter who, after throwing up on his laptop battling a norovirus, reacts like I could imagine mine doing. Just when you think you know what you are being called on to do as a parent (in this case, make your kid comfortable while they battle a bug), parenthood throws you a small curveball and you realize that you are being called upon to do something else entirely.

I go into my daughter’s room to kiss her goodnight and find her sweating under blankets. Her best friend has lately found other kids he’d rather play with at school, and in her sleepy state that’s the first thing on her mind. Through her dream haze she says to me, “It’s good that he wouldn’t play with me today; I might have made him sick.” Here I’ve been worried I upset her with my reaction to what happened, but heavier things weigh on her tiny heart.

“I just want you to know that I love you, and that my computer isn’t broken after all.”

“Okay, Pops.”

“And don’t you worry about him. He doesn’t know how much fun he’s missing.”

A few lines later, musing about his angry reaction to losing his laptop, he says;

But how could you be mad at her? You might as well be mad at the wind.

Later on, an event happens that puts losing your laptop to a kid vomiting on it into perspective, and presents another reality of what parents are called upon to deal with, in this case it is Jim’s Mother-in-Law. Here’s hoping the follow-up post has some good news with regards to that situation.

This is wonderful writing, and a post that every soon to be Dad should read.

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.