Dog Days of Spring

Update time!  Wheeeeee!

Now that daylight extends into the evening hours, we’ve resumed our weekly trysts to the local farmer’s market. This is the first time we’ve gone with both kiddos, and if lugging two small children to an open marketplace brimming with small children and commotion isn’t enough, we also brought the dog along. As a general rule, farmer’s marketplaces disallow all dogs except registered service ones (for health reasons), so it should have been clear to us from the onset. Maybe I thought that the adjacent field would be a fine place to park everyone while we got dinner in shifts. I was mistaken.

Thing 1 happily scurried off to play with her friends, climb on rocks, run around, etc. Great. I can watch her from afar. Wife left to procure food. My mom and I stayed with Thing 2. Lately I’ve noticed something’s happened to the dog. I think he’s reached a tipping point where we can no longer take him out in public. I don’t think he’s a menace to society or anything but he’s certainly not his usual self ever since we had our second. I think his place on the bottom rung of the family totem pole has been cemented.


Dog training is a funny sort of business. It’s a misnomer, really. What it amounts to is actually dog owner training. If you don’t commit to making the changes in how you handle your pet, nothing will change, even if said pup is a star performer in class. Needless to say, ours has always been a good little fellow, even if some issues like jumping, barking at anyone who passes our house, and recall have remained challenges. I suppose those were always things we could live with. So long as they remain in the house.

When we first had the kidlet back in 2010 I noticed a gradual change in the dog. On the whole he seemed to mature, becoming much less puppy-like at home. He certainly mellowed out, and settled into family life. When we’d go out to the park with him and munchkin, though, he was incredibly aggressive toward anyone who came near. Our outings with the dog came to an end when he chased down some poor 5 year old boy who was playing with a ball nearby…driving him to tears. Talk about embarrassing. Then to top it off last year he bit some poor lady’s hand who was trying to throw a ball to her dog at the dog beach. Fortunately it wasn’t serious and the woman was pretty accommodating…but that was the end of doggy outings.

So I have to reiterate to myself, what possessed me to think bringing the dog to the FM was a good idea. It was already clear he was struggling when we got there; his whole body had tensed up and he was literally quivering with nervous energy. I hardly blame him. Kids running amok, shrieking with joy (and anguish), all manner of toys flying to and fro. In other words. Utter chaos. So I kept a pretty short leash on him. But it all got messed up.

As I went to give my mom the dog, something fired inside of him and he took off, yanking the leash from her grip, and trailing behind him in a whiplash fashion as he bolted toward some dog across the green. Caught in the crossfire was an innocent bystander who was all of 5 or 6 years old. The leash, having not fully retracted into its housing as the dog sprinted off, flailed and lashed around the girl’s ankles like a bolas, then quickly unwound and snapped into place. Horrifying. I instinctively left Thing 2 for a second to recapture the dog, then try to soothe the parents and girl. I assured them the dog would not be making any return trips and apologized for the accident. I don’t know if it was enough, but I don’t know what else I could have done. It was sucky to be powerless, and I was also filled with empathy for the parents, who I felt handled the situation very well.
I think it’s fair to say that I spoiled their night since they packed up their picnic and promptly left.

He's No Angel

He’s no Angel

The girl was a mess, wailing inconsolably. I don’t blame her. She had pretty bad rope burn on both ankles where the cord had wrapped and then pulled. No blood, but still enough damage to feel rightfully terrible. Her parents expressed a mixture of concern for their daughter’s well-being and consternation for my errant dog (and most likely his irresponsible owner). As if the guilt of having just inadvertently caused this child’s misery wasn’t enough, just about every parent within earshot fixed a cross glare upon me and my cavorting canine. At that instant, all I wanted to do was get the hell out. Of course, with my family scattered to all four winds at that moment, it wasn’t an option, so I just stood around looking sheepish.

A little sheepish?

All of this is to say that while I love my dog, and accidents happen, this could have been prevented. I’d be upset if this happened to my girls, but I imagine things of a similar nature are bound to happen at some point and all I can do is keep a first aid kit and soothing voice ready.

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Book Review: Duct Tape Parenting

So it’s been a while since I’ve written a book report.  Maybe since elementary school.  It’s still worth sharing some thoughts about my latest foray into being the best dad and husband that I can be.

Duct Tape Parenting

Most first impressions of the title would imply that the book’s premised is based on:

1. Using duct tape to keep your children in line
2. Developing MacGyver-like solutions to parenting challenges with duct tape, a matchstick and whatever other random pocket lint you can find.

This book advocates neither.  Instead, author Hoefle offers up tips for being mindful in your approach to child rearing and changing your way of thinking through the following techniques/metaphors.

– Weed control.Pulling Weeds
No, you shouldn’t smoke weed to cope with your child’s antics (tempting as it may be), and no, your kids are not the weeds either.  Their unwanted behaviors are.  The author starts off by identifying how we as parents are responsible for the behaviors our children exhibit. Any problem you can think of is equated to a weed. To get rid of weeds, you stop watering them with, you guessed it, your attention and focus. Easier said than done, right? Think about it. Any time Thing 1 whines and we tell her to “use your big girl voice,” or, “we can’t hear you when you whine,” we’re still giving her what she wants. The same with tantrums, acting out, etc. Kids don’t grow out of behaviors, they grow into them. The challenge is to leave your child no other option but to recognize that you no longer will respond in any way to undesirable behaviors and develop new positive ones in their place.  This requires great time and patience (and duct tape!) on the part of parents, who instinctively want to placate and pacify our thespian children.

– Band aids and bullet wounds.Bloody blood!
Time outs, sending them to their room, punishing, lecturing, talking through, reminding, rescuing, bribing, taking away, counting, the list goes on… these are “quick fixes” to problems that continually surface. Symptoms of one of two issues: either the relationship with your child is damaged, or your child has not been fully taught or trained to do something and thus issues arise that result in your need to intervene. The solution? Keep reading. Like any book would give you the answers in chapter two.

– Stop being “the maid.”The disgruntled maid.
Hoefle spends some time shattering the myths we have come to believe:
1. Mother/Father Makes it Easy – “My kids shouldn’t have to work or encounter hardship; there’s plenty of time for that when they’re adults. Kids just want (and deserve) to have fun.”
2. Mother/Father Knows Best – “I’m faster, better, neater, (and a bit of a perfectionist); it’s just easier if I do everything.”
3. Mother/Father Looks Good – “If my kids and home don’t look good, behave politely, play fair, and do the right thing at all times, I’ll look like a slacker parent with loser kids.”
4. Mother/Father Need to be Needed – “I don’t want my child to grow up and not want/need me around, so I’ll make sure they need me enough.”

In each of these cases, Hoefle states, we have convinced ourselves that doing things for our children is better than letting them do it for themselves, but as it turns out we’re robbing them of independence and self discovery. Kids don’t want maids. They want to be self sufficient, capable, and have ownership of their experiences. This also means letting them fail and use the lessons from that process in personal growth, resilience, and independence.

– Negativity is counter productive (duh?) to building healthy relationships.Always look on the bright side of life!
Learn to refocus your perception of your children in a positive light and strive to bring out the best aspects of those traits. I have been striving to do this with Thing 1 lately. It’s tempting to focus on her sensitivity and the negative behaviors that are linked to it. At the same time, those are amazingly wonderful traits that can serve her well as an adult in both her personal and professional life. Snuffing out all of that and focusing on it as a problem will only cause grief and heartache. Instead, as with the theme of the book, the author encourages parents to seek out ways to reinforce the positive aspects of the traits instead of focusing on negativity. Acknowledging rather than praising will reinforce the relationship and again, focuses kids on the process rather than the blanket outcome. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve absentmindedly blurted out “Good job” for whatever menial task. I am really trying now to focus instead on pointing out the effort she is putting into things, or calling out successful results based on hard work or difficulty, or patience. Basically the moral here is to constantly remind your child that you believe in them.

– Watch and listen more, speak less.Listen and watch.  Say next to nothing.
Let your children learn from their own mistakes. Allow them through the process from beginning to end without mucking it up with your parental presence. You’re also better able to assess what your child can do, can do but refuses to, and genuinely cannot do. A gap analysis of sorts. With that information you can go about setting a plan to address deficiencies and help your kids grow and take on new and more complex responsibilities.

– Make a plan and know where you’re doing.
We make such strides in academia and in our professional lives toward purposeful and strategic courses of action, but why aren’t we applying the same standards to family life? That’s not to say every aspect of our children’s lives need be mapped out, but anticipating what we need to focus on as parents can guide our actions and behaviors in a way that results in a mutually respectful relationship. Even in early childhood. So it all begins with watching and listening to your kids. Developing a parenting mission statement to guide your actions. Inventorying what your kids can and cannot do, what you think they should be able to do, and where you want them to be when they’re 18 and set foot out on their own into the wide and unforgiving world. Then you can actually focus on parenting and training them where they are deficient. The book offers a roadmap metaphor as a suggestion but it can take any form really, as long as you’re mindful in the approach.

Why do we keep repeating the same mistakes with the same outcomes if we’re not satisfied? Why is it so hard to break free of our trapped mindset? Is the status-quo really that much easier to tolerate?  The author recommends some resources to make small steps toward considering new approaches, and also gives a nod to the fact that it requires some courage!

My only complaint about the book is that it doesn’t really quantify or identify when certain things can be started. Can I do all of this hands-off stuff with my three year old? Do I need to wait until she’s older? Will it be too late?  What should or shouldn’t a three year old be expected to do?  How long will it take?  The list goes on…

The girls.

Also, none of this stuff matters if your partner isn’t involved in the strategies you hope to employ. Implementing these ideas requires both parents to be on board so we’re in agreement about whether or not to starve weeds or try some other approach out. So I will continue to nudge le wife to read this book in full so we can have a meaningful conversation about how to be better parents now that we’ve got two and simply can’t allocate our parental resources the same way we did when we had only one munchkin.

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Pillow Talk – Introspection and a (re)New(ed) Outlook

Wife and I got into it a little bit the other night when I made an offhanded comment about something I misconstrued regarding breast pumping.  I instinctively (and foolishly) attempted to justify and downplay the comment, but the words were already spoken and could not be taken back…the wound was exposed.  Turns out it wasn’t the only thing I’d said in recent memory that had left a bad impression.  While my instinct was to externalize the fault, I had to fight off  the voice in the back of my mind that wanted me to blurt out something like, “postpartum, postpartum, it’s the change in hormones leading to increased sensitivity.”  AKA: it’s not my fault you’re so sensitive.  I was wise enough to keep my mouth shut on that one (especially since I was more than likely wrong even if I was right.  ya dig?).  She is entitled to her feelings regardless and I owe it to her to listen and validate.

One of the many traits I admire so much about my wife is that she is always willing to challenge me and speaks her mind.  That’s not to say that I enjoy being shamed or reprimanded, but I do appreciate that nothing ever is bottled up and we never have explosive hostile arguments.  Since the wound was already exposed, we continued.  The conversation intensified as she reminded me of some other comments I had made lately in the presence of other people that cast her (and our family) in a negative light: Thing 1’s deficiencies, my lack of dude-time, jealousy over other couples’ labor distribution ratios (some of the guys I know get away with SO much!), etc… It was hard to hear it all, but I knew that I had erred but I tried to stage a contextual defense for some of my behaviors.

Insert foot in mouth like so.

Vivi demonstrates how to put foot in mouth.

There was some back and forth as I sought to clarify my reasoning but in the end, I was humbled. The wound was disinfected and clean and we could both heal and move on.  Something about behind every great man, there’s usually a great woman?

So what exactly did I learn from this conversation?

1. A reminder: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.”  It holds up.  Sometimes it’s just better to STFU.  What I say and do matter just as much as what I don’t say or do.

2. Sensationalism has consequences.  Complaining is easy.  Complimenting and praising takes a more mindful approach.  Much like the news media’s focus on the most attention-grabbing headlines instead of the less exciting good news…it’s the low hanging fruit.  I need to remember that on the whole there’s a lot more positives in my life than low points and not to fall into the negativity trap.  Calling attention to the lows, even if making what I think is a humorous observation, isn’t doing anyone any favors.

I’m typically a pretty positive and upbeat person, even when sleep deprived.  I’ve had a lot to celebrate lately: a loving and supportive wife who keeps me on my toes and shares in all of these wacky life adventures with a bounce in her step and sharp wit, a charming, inquisitive, playful and vibrant three-year-old, a new daughter who is as peaceful and sweet as anyone could hope, and a stable job doing meaningful work with the flexibility to prioritize family while providing plenty of opportunities to grow professionally.  Not to mention the friends and family who are making this journey with us.

Anyway, it was just a reality check.  Sarcasm and sensationalism are cheap shots and fade quickly from memory.  A waste of verbal space, really.  It was a good reminder, if painful to hear at the time, to be truer to my own perspective and positive outlook.  Thanks, wifey, for taking me to task. You make me a better husband, father, friend and man.

The better half

Up next, a book review: Duct Tape Parenting.  Wait, book review?  You mean, I have time to read?

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Carbon Copies!

Oh yeah, I forgot.  Check this out!

Which is which!?

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New Addition

I’m already finding second child syndrome to be a real and inevitable phenomenon.  Witness: it has taken me just shy of a month to blog about the birth of my second child, Cecelia Rae.  When Thing 1 was born, the word was out almost instantaneously.  Anyway, no point in shaming myself…it’s just the reality that I haven’t found/made time to prioritize blogging.

Family time!

I’ve been too busy feeding, cleaning, tending to Thing 1, battling sleep deprivation, rushing to appointments, and oh, knocking things off of a massive to-do list.  I’m not typically one to make lists or cross things off, but I’m particularly proud of my productivity level during this time of paternity leave.  I’d list it all here but the specifics don’t matter, only the sheer quantity.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to take many photos and videos in spite of second child syndrome; it’s easy to forget, especially when there are so many competing demands for my attention.  Here’s Cece’s first bath in 3 parts:

One the main differences between the first and second so far is that I’ve been fortunate enough to have a proper paternity break.  What a blessing!  At my prior job the workplace offered no formal paternity benefit so I was using up what limited sick/vacation time I had accrued.  I also felt some internal pressure from the organization’s culture that implied I should return to work promptly.  Of course there was the preemie issue as well, which means the dilemma: do I take my leave and support my wife or wait to take the leave until baby is released from NICU?

Thing 1 is adapting really well for a three year old.  Holy smoke.  Three.  Yeah time flies.  The hardest thing is the lack of immediately available attention.  Both wife and I are constantly reminding her that she should try and do it herself, or she’ll need to wait because baby can’t do anything for herself yet.  Since she hates the sound of a crying newborn as much as anyone, she’s also eager to help out when we give her opportunities.  It will be curious to see how things go once I’m back at work.  Right now we’re evenly matched.

I can’t believe I’ve been home for nearly a month.  It’s blurred past.  Tomorrow, I return to work.  I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared but have to remember most people aren’t so lucky.

I feel like my thoughts even as I write this are a bit disjointed and garbled, but I figured I should put something out before I return to the office.

So I’ll part with some photos of child harmony:



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Five Things…

I wrote a guest post for playground dad a while back and it just went live today.  Feel free to check it out!

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lies we tell our daughter…

Let me preface this post by declaring that I’m a terrible liar. Transparent, twitchy, telling.  I used to compulsively lie to my stepmother when I was a kid because I was so intimidated by her disciplinary methods.  Things I had absolutely no reason to lie about!  I’d get caught.  Every.  Time.  This would only of course result in me getting in worse trouble.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson and put a stop to it, but this trend went on for years!  Crazy, right?  Anyway, even when fibbing, embellishing, or tactfully attempting to dodge incriminating questions, I can barely keep a straight face. Yet somehow for the last 6 months the wife and I have been pulling fast ones left and right. Here’s a list of the more recent whoppers:

When mommies and daddies aren’t around, monsters are going to come.  This came about from the munchkin refusing to get out of the car when the wife was running an errand.  Nothing like good old fear as coercion.  I don’t know why the wife thought this was a good one to perpetuate…something tells me this one is going to come back and bite us.
– If you don’t brush your teeth they’re going to turn the color of poop and the tooth fairy will not come for them because they’re stinky and gross.  This one is pretty self explanatory.
-The princesses decide what comes on Pandora Radio.  You get what you get.
-You are made out of love. (somewhat true)  This is our attempt to answer the bigger birds and bees question on the toddler level.
– Listing off all of the random things we find in her teeth while brushing…
– If you don’t listen to me and continue misbehaving the Hanukkah fairy will come and take your presents away.  Torah 101: The God of the Hebrews is a vengeful one.
It's Tinkerbell!
– Constant threats to do ___ task without her.
– We’re going to leave without her/leave her behind.
– Princesses eat all of their dinner. (this might actually be true)
– I’m going to do ____ task first/ I’m going to win.  Nothing gets her moving like thinking she’s going to “lose” or be the last one.  She also has a driving urge to win everything.  Heaven have mercy on anyone else who dares win.
– We have convinced her that she can talk to her unborn sister in utero through mommy’s belly button.  We whisper conversations to get her excited.  You should see the look on her face!
– The great big birthday fakeout.  This year because Baby O 2.0 is due around her birthday, we’re just going to celebrate a month late.  We’ve let everyone in on it so that her real birthday should pass by without notice.  We hope.
– Medicine lies. dissolving mucinex powder = pixie dust, children’s dimetap =purple princess potion (the kind Ariel takes to become human), tylenol chewables = candy.  Etc.  Strangely even this only works some of the time.
– Places we’ve stayed. (my friend Greg’s house is actually “auntie squid’s house”?)
– When people travel, they’re on an airplane the entire time they’re gone.  “Yep Vivi, Amma is still on an airplane…”
– If something is unavailable off, closed, etc., it’s “sleeping”. (This was an early and frequent one that we’ve since outgrown.)
– Foods we don’t want her to eat yet are “spicy”.  This includes everything from certain desserts, soda, milkshakes, etc.
– The Gaytonia, an ostentatious and garish historic building with turrets in our neighborhood has been labeled “princess castle.”  And yet the princesses are never home so we simply cannot drop in uninvited.  That would be rude!  As a result, we constantly have to come up with new tricks to persuade her that the princesses are unavailable.

The Gaytonia...not to be confused with gaytopia

I wonder many things.  I wonder when we can just start leveling with her without fear of the consequences.  I wonder if she’s going to develop a complex.  I wonder if this is ethically appropriate and she wouldn’t be better off hearing “the hard truth”…if she could even wrap her mind around it.

I wonder if I should go to sleep now…

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