Evil Elves and Messy Rooms

My daughter spun a tall tale last week about evil elves who live in her closet. It was yet another excuse to not sleep in her room. I checked her room out thoroughly and declared it to be free of elves, but she was not convinced and spent another night in mommy and daddy’s bed.

But what if I was wrong? What if there really are evil elves in there? I’m beginning to think that my daughter is telling the truth!

The other night I was cleaning up her room for the umpteenth time. Toys littered the floor, bed, and shelves. I gathered them all up, put some in boxes and bins, while others made their way to the garbage can. I left the room orderly and clean.

The very next night, there were toys all over the room again! Only these were (cue the spooky music) different toys. Some I’ve never seen before.

Where did they come from? How did they get thrown all over her room?

It suddenly dawned on me that elves make toys. And elves that are evil would delight in making toys that were broken, or had missing parts… The very toys that seem to populate my daughter’s room!

I can just imagine these malevolent munchkins, having been kicked out of the North Pole in disgrace, are now roaming the countryside, living in little girls’ closets and causing mayhem with their mad toy-making skills.

There’s just no other explanation for it.

This post first appeared on my blog on August 28, 2007. The elves still live in my daughter’s closet, but now they throw clothes around instead of toys.

I Want To Be My Kids’ Hero

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I noticed my four-year-old with her thumb in her mouth. I said, “Aren’t you a little old to be sucking your thumb?” She replied, “I not sucking my thumb. I cleaning my face like a cat.” And then she proceeded to wipe spit all over her nose, cheeks, and forehead. Well, okay… Just as long as she doesn’t start using the litterbox.

I write things like this down so that we can have a good laugh about it when she’s grown up. Sharing good memories is one of my favorite pastimes. If only I had more people to do it with. Most of my friends and family profess to having Swiss-cheese memories, but I think that’s just an excuse to avoid dredging up any bad times they may have had. In my life I’ve had pain, disappointment and plain bad luck, and I’m not afraid of letting those ghosts out for some fresh air. Remembering the past can sometimes be the best way of figuring out the future for myself and my family.

Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Well, if something from my past is coming to get me, I’ll just talk it to death. At seven years of age, my son is already an old hand at rolling his eyes and commenting, “Daddy’s telling another one of his stories!”

Regardless, I think my kids enjoy hearing about my past. And hopefully they learn a little something about life and how to live it. I didn’t get that from my own dad. He was, and still is, reluctant to talk about anything much past yesterday afternoon.

So I regale my kids with stories from my youth, with only slight embellishment for dramatic effect. I tell them about my brief reign as tetherball champion of the second grade, and about the time I got conked in the head by a painting during an earthquake.

They also know that I was “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” as a kid and loved to build Lego mazes for my hamster. And that the very first song I ever remember hearing was “Hey Jude” and it’s still my favorite song of all time.

They’ve also heard my sad memories, like when I saw my brother lying in his casket, I touched his hand and stared at his face hoping that it wasn’t really him in there, and how my dad never comforted me during that time or ever spoke about it afterward. And how lemon cake still brings back uneasy memories of the reception after the funeral.

My kids are getting a clear and honest picture of who I was and who I am right now. They also understand the value of open lines of communication between family members. Hopefully they’ll remember that when they become teenagers.

So I had nobody telling me what to expect in life, which was a lot of fun during my own teen years. A friendly male voice of experience would’ve been most welcome during those times, but unfortunately I had no role models around. My dad left us, my brother died, there were no grandfathers, uncles or cousins nearby… No teacher took me under his wing, our pastor was a womanizer who eventually divorced and left the church… It goes on and on. The few men in my life were neutral influences at best.

Which is probably why I want to be such a strong presence in my kids’ lives. They’ll never have to wonder why there were no positive male influences around them. I know I won’t be the only one, but I will be the best one. I want to be my kids’ hero. Nothing else matters… It’s the foremost thought in my mind as I teach and guide my children through to adulthood. They are always watching me, learning from my actions, listening to my words. It’s a monumental responsibility, one which some men shirk from too easily. But it’s worth doing, and the payoff is immense.

Being a good dad is not complex. You just have to choose to wrap your mind around the idea that your family is more important than your career or your hobbies or your friends. There’s nothing better you can do for you kids than to become their protector. There is no paycheck or promotion for doing this, and you will not receive accolades and awards from the community at large, but every now and then you might just get a little pat on the back when you least expect it.

I was at my son’s school one day, checking in at the front desk, when a teacher’s aide recognized me and yelled to everyone in the office, “That is a true dad!” My first reaction was to give her a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look because, quite frankly, I am not accustomed to positive comments about my situation as a stay-at-home dad. I must have looked thoroughly confused because she came over and said, “That was a compliment,” to which I mumbled something like “I do what I can.”

It wasn’t until a few days later that I began to feel really good about it. Those two words keep popping up in my head: true dad…I like that label. It’s so much more refreshing than some of the other things I’ve heard from friends and family over the past few years. In fact, I’ve rarely been complimented for my choice to be a stay-at-home dad. And by rarely, I mean not at all.

But it only took one person to say two little words to put me on top of the world for a short time. If you have a chance to compliment a stay-at-home dad (or a stay-at-home mom), don’t hesitate to do it. You’ll give them a really good memory to share with their kids.

When Good Things Go Bad

It’s a Throwback Thursday blog post, going all the way back to 2005 when my son was 7 years old and everything was different.

narniaI totally blew my son’s mind tonight.

We’ve been reading the seven Chronicles of Narnia books and thoroughly enjoyed each story. Until the final book, The Last Battle, in which Aslan wipes out Narnia and brings all the good creatures to “the real Narnia” (aka heaven). The last few pages of the book are mostly description, as C.S. Lewis paints a picture of an afterlife where everything is as perfect as you can imagine.

My son was bitterly disappointed that Narnia was destroyed, and he didn’t quite understand why the characters were running through the new land. I could see the wheels churning away in his mind as he tried to figure it out. When I finished reading it, he looked confused and said, “What happened?”

His brain hadn’t caught up yet.

So, I re-read the last two pages to him. He got it… The kids died in a train accident… Uh-oh… Here comes the scrunched up face, then the clenched muscles, and finally the tears. Just a few, because then he got really mad. His eyes narrowed, and he made two fists. I thought he was going to punch a hole in the wall, but instead he stuck his thumbs out and slowly turned them downwards, and then said, “Thumbs down to that!”

We talked about the fact that it was just a story, and that Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and the others weren’t real people, and that it was just one man’s imagination about what heaven would be like. But he wasn’t having any of that. He was so furious with the author for killing those kids in that train.

After a bit more discussion, he had mostly calmed down, so I said goodnight and started out of the room. He stopped me and said, angrily, “Daddy, you take all those books out of here and throw them in the garbage!”

As I picked up the box set, he regained some composure, because no matter how mad you are you should always use your common sense. He stated, matter of factly, “Or you can sell them on eBay.”

Ten-year update: I didn’t sell or toss the books. They’ve been hidden away in my office for a decade. I figure he might want to read them to his own kids some day. Well, the first six, anyway.

Family Weekend in Tacoma

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The Super Bowl has once again put Seattle in the spotlight, and it’s sure to see an increase in tourism as people come to check out the home of the Seahawks. People will flock to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Experience Music, and the Museum of Flight. It’s a beautiful city, with no shortage of fun activities for families.

However, if you’ve been there done that, and you’re looking for something different for a family weekend, you might cast your glance a mere 30 miles to the south of Seattle, to the city of Tacoma. Washington’s third largest city often gets overlooked by visitors to the area. Sitting on the south end of Puget Sound, Tacoma has plenty of family-friendly sites to keep you and your kids happy.

Silver Cloud Inn

Finding a place to stay is easy. Go for the scenery along the Puget Sound. The Silver Cloud Inn is ideally located on a pier that juts out into the Sound, giving you spectacular views and the feeling that you’re floating out on the water. The hotel is near Old Town, which has a wide variety of restaurants, shops, and parks, not to mention a number of historic buildings dating back to Tacoma’s founding in 1864. It’s a great place to walk.

The favorite place for your kids is going to be the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, which is about three miles up the coast from Old Town and the Silver Cloud Inn. The zoo is a small one, but kids will think it’s huge. You can easily spend half a day wandering through the exhibits, which include tigers, polar bears, elephants, and sharks. There’s nothing more memorable than watching one of the daily shark feeds.

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The Zoo is located in Point Defiance Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country at 700 acres. It’s a gorgeous setting, with miles of trails winding in and around the park. You’ll find a rose garden, sandy beaches, a stand of old growth forest, and a living history museum that recreates life in an early 1800’s fort. Going back in time at the Fort Nisqually Museum is also a huge favorite for my kids. Established in 1833, the Fort was the first European settlement on the Puget Sound. Today it teaches history, with two original buildings and careful reconstructions of the others. Volunteers and staff roam the grounds in authentic clothing of the time, talking with visitors as if they’re still in the 1800’s. There are plenty of hands-on activities and crafts to keep kids interested in learning about life back then.

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If everything in and around Point Defiance Park doesn’t keep you busy enough through the weekend, try to squeeze in a visit to the amazing and unique Museum of Glass. Yes, an entire museum dedicated to the medium of glass art. You reach the museum by crossing the 500-foot Bridge of Glass, designed by the legendary glass pioneer Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native.

Museum of Glass

Once inside the museum, head for the glass-blowing rooms, where expert glass blowers put on daily demonstrations. Kids will have a chance to try their hand at creating various glass art pieces. For inspiration, there are multiple galleries displaying the work of artists from all over the world, but especially of those from the Pacific Northwest. The museum does a great job of explaining how glass art is created, and you get to see the entire process, step-by-step, on one of their guided tours.

So, if you’re thinking of visiting Seattle, don’t ignore the city to the south. Tacoma is a great place to take the family for the weekend. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you and your kids will have.

A Super Bowl Lesson

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Living in the Pacific Northwest, you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of Seattle Seahawks football. These past few weeks, leading up to the Super Bowl, the blue and green has been everywhere, from jerseys to posters to balloons, in restaurants, grocery stores, and schools. The 12th Man was all around us.

So, naturally, we sat down to root for the Seahawks to win the big game. No one in my family had their heart set on a Seattle victory. It was more a matter of having fun with our friends and neighbors, and wanting to see them happy.

While others were crushed by the bonehead play call that dashed the last-minute hopes of the Seahawks to score a go-ahead touchdown, I was reminded of a lesson that I have often repeated to my kids.

Whatever you do in life, from school to sports to career, you don’t want to lose out because of a mental mistake, or a lack of effort, or even bad luck.

I remember losing points on an important test in middle school because I forgot to put the date under my name. It made me furious, but taught me that when something’s within my control, I’d better make sure that I’m the one controlling it. That mistake was never made again.

I’ve always told my kids that, no matter what, don’t cost yourself a grade because you didn’t read the instructions carefully. Don’t lose a game because you were distracted. Don’t miss a job opportunity because you didn’t prepare yourself for the interview.

What does this have to do with the Super Bowl? The Seahawks players were prepared, they did their jobs, they followed their assignments. But one guy, the head coach, went against the odds and ran a play that wasn’t right for that scenario. I’m sure he’s kicking himself over it now.

At that level of competition, and at his age and experience, that’s a lapse in judgement he should not have made. In fact, it’s almost inexcusable. Sure, it’s just a game, but sometimes games are like life.

The Seahawks had an amazing season, but they missed the opportunity of a lifetime because of one simple mental mistake. There’s the lesson I’ve taught my kids so often.

I’ve also taught them that, after a letdown, get back up and keep trying. Learn from what happened, and do better next time.

Next season will be an interesting one for the Seahawks. I might even buy a Seahawks jersey (half-price by now, I bet) and cheer them on from the start.

A Dad’s Real Strength

Dove Men+Care has a cool new ad lined up for this year’s Super Bowl. It’s refreshing to see the message that caring for your children can make you stronger as a man.

Well done, Dove!

By the way, I’m a loyal user of Dove Men+Care products, especially their Fresh Awake Body Wash. Aside from the smooth, cleansing feeling of the body wash, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the design of their bottles. The product doesn’t squeeze out in huge, wasteful amounts as other body washes do, so it ends up lasting longer, saving you money in the long run.

Seeing Double at Fairmont Hot Springs

It’s just a coincidence that my family’s two favorite hot springs destinations are both named Fairmont Hot Springs.

Both have comfortable, and affordable, lodges for their guests. Both have large, clean pools filled with soothing hot mineral water. Both are extremely family friendly. Your vacation needs are covered either way, so you only have to decide if you want to grab your passport or not.

One of them is in Western Montana, while the other is in British Columbia, Canada.

The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Montana sits by itself in a small valley three miles off I-90 near Butte. Its isolated location, plus the resort’s 500 acres, gives you a real sense of the wild, untamed west that the pioneers must have experienced. That is, if they were sitting in a hot tub with a strawberry daiquiri in one hand.

The resort has 153 rooms and suites, two full-service restaurants, a spa, an 18-hole golf course, and even a miniature golf course. But you’ll probably want to spend most of your time in the water. There are two Olympic-sized pools and two super-hot soaking pools. One of each inside, and one of each outside. The pools are open to resort guests 24 hours a day.

Fairmont Hot Springs

The outdoor pool features a 350-foot water slide, although it does cost extra to use. $10.50 for an all-day pass if you’re a guest of the resort. Fairmont Hot Springs is about three hours from Yellowstone National Park, and makes a good stop before or after geyser-watching.

Not far from the resort, and on the road to Yellowstone, is Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, one of the largest limestone caverns in the northwest. It’s a 90-minute guided walk for just $5. I highly recommend making time to stop here.

Okay, so Montana’s hot springs has it going on. But what about Canada?

The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in British Columbia, Canada, also sits in a valley, but at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, so the view is decidedly different from the Montana prairie.

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But the water is just the same. Hot and therapeutic, just like you want. In 4 different pools, which are the largest odorless natural hot mineral pools in all of Canada! The resort has 140 rooms and suites, 7 full-service restaurants, a spa, three golf courses, and a ski area.

No slides to splash down, so Canada might just get the thumbs down from your kids when mulling over the two Fairmonts. However, if you ski, this is where you’ll want to be in the winter. There’s nothing like a rejuvenating soak after a day on the slopes.

Whatever season you go, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding area. Hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting. Name a mountain activity and you can do it there. Nearby is the small town of Invermere, where you can find a range of activities. Just don’t miss the ostrich farm.

This time of year, you just can’t beat a hot springs vacation for the whole family. Whichever Fairmont you choose, you’re going to love it.

Stop Teaching Your Kids to be Mean!

When my daughter was 4 years old, a slightly older girl marched up to her in the local park and loudly proclaimed, “Your parents don’t love you.”

Not long after that, again at the park, a group of older elementary aged girls surrounded my daughter and called her an “ugly toad” and “jerk face.”

When my son was in 2nd grade, he brought a thermos full of chicken rice soup, which he really likes, for his school lunch. A kid across the table looked at it and said, “Your lunch looks like baby food.” After that, he only wanted sandwiches.

And it was just last year, during a Boy Scout camping trip, when my now 16-year-old son and a friend were having an animated discussion about the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, that another boy walked over to interrupt them with the comment, “You guys sound like a couple of girls talking about a stupid book.”

So, my kids have had their fair share of experiences with mean kids.

Mean kids are everywhere it seems. And it’s not like they’re born that way. No, mean kids are easily made by parents who don’t even realize they’re doing it.

I’m not talking about parents who bully or abuse their children. I’m talking about the everyday comments and actions of moms and dads who forget that their kids are constantly watching, and learning.

Parents, you really need to stop teaching your kids to be mean. And here are three ways you can do that.

1. Stop gossiping.

Gossiping about your friends and neighbors inevitably turns to the dark side. It just can’t be helped. You may start out talking up the news of someone’s good fortune, but it won’t be long before the, “Yes, but have you heard,” comes out, and then all the unpleasant rumors and innuendo gush forth.

And you know your kids are listening. They hear you dishing the dirt and they grow to think it’s okay to talk about people that way.

It’s really not. Gossip hurts. It’s mean and spiteful and never ends well. So stop doing it.

2. Stop nitpicking.

Criticizing, in a positive way, is fine in certain situations. We all need to work on ourselves. But nitpicking is criticizing just for the sake of finding fault with someone.

And that’s mean. It seems like we can’t stand to think that someone has their life properly put together, so we look closer and closer until we find something we think isn’t quite perfect. I guess it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies.

Well, newsflash, nobody’s perfect. Not you, not them, not anyone. If you are feeling down and unsure about some part of yourself, it’s not going to be fixed by finding some small fault with others.

So, stop teaching your kids to solve their problems by bringing down those around them. Instead, teach them to raise themselves up, to become better friends, better siblings, better students.

3. Stop categorizing.

How easy is it to point out all the differences between us? It is that way simply because there aren’t that many to choose from. As human beings, whether you are a nomadic sheep herder from Mongolia or a social media manager from Manhattan, the similarities between us far outnumber the differences.

But, rather than point out how we are all the same, it seems like we automatically look to lump people into categories in order to understand them better. We usually do this instantly without really knowing all that much about the person we’re categorizing.

“Oh, he’s fat,” and “Look at the way she’s dressed, must be poor,” and “That dad must be unemployed if he’s at the park with his kids in the middle of the day.”

These assumptive efforts at labeling and separating people ultimately has a negative effect on the way we view the world around us. Like I said, instead of focusing on our similarities, we now start to see only differences.

Then you find yourself building walls of intolerance and bigotry. And isolating your kids inside there with you.

Stop doing these things. Stop teaching your kids to be mean! Whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you gossip, nitpick, and categorize.

You can do better. As a parent, you have to.

Flipped Off By A 4-Year-Old

When my kids were young, hardly a day went by without them saying or doing something awesome I could blog about. These days, as teens, most of their activities are off limits to me as a writer. So, I have to take a trip on the wayback machine to tell stories about them. This tale is originally from early 2006. Definitely one to include in Idaho Dad’s Greatest Hits.

I arrived at my son’s school today about fifteen minutes early to pick him up, so my daughter and I sat in the car and listened to a Wiggles CD. One of her favorite tracks, Where Is Thumbkin?, started playing and I turned in my seat to do the hand gestures with her.

The song starts out with:

Where is thumbkin?
Where is thumbkin?
Here I am.
Here I am.
How are you today, friend?
Very well, I thank you.
Run away.
Run away.

I played along with the song, sticking my thumb up in the air and waving it about like a finger puppet, bowing, and then making it run away behind the head rest. My daughter loved it and started imitating me.

The next part of the song introduces “Pointer”…. Where is Pointer? Where is Pointer? Here I am… etc.

We happily waved our pointer fingers all around in front of us, then made them run away.

You get where this story is going?

Next up is “Tall One”…

So here we are waving our middle fingers around, only mine is hidden between the two front seats while my daughter’s is right next to the window. I looked over at the car next to us and noticed a woman frowning disapprovingly.

I can just imagine what she said to her husband that night: “The world is going to hell. Today I was flipped off by a 4-year-old!”

The Horrors of Disneyland

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“The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light. After all, it bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth.

But that can be misleading. Walking through the cheery front gates onto a bustling Main Street inevitably leads you toward a darker subtext of the Disneyland story.

And that realization really hit me for the first time on our most recent visit. I’ve been to the park dozens of times as a visitor, and I worked there for a year during high school, but for some reason I never truly noticed all the death and fear that makes up the place.

The first thing that clued me in were the skulls. They’re everywhere! Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates Lair, Peter Pan’s Flight. Piles of them! The Disneyland Hotel even had a gigantic skull-shaped rock to slide through at their pool before they remodeled and ripped it out.

If it’s not skulls, it’s scares.

The Matterhorn features two appearances by a ferocious demon-eyed Abominable Snowman. Alice in Wonderland is like some sort of freaky LSD trip. Indiana Jones almost drops you off a bridge into a pit of fire. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride actually concludes by sending you to hell, complete with blasts of hot air and a face-to-face meeting with Satan himself.

And then there’s the dead come to life.

The classic Haunted Mansion features a killer bride who wants to rip your still-beating heart from your chest. There’s a graveyard of ghosts and ghouls popping up from underneath their headstones, eager to come home with you. And then there’s that poor sap who is about to be buried alive and pleads with you to help him escape from his coffin. When I was a young boy, I kept my eyes closed the whole way through the Mansion. Sometimes I’d even plug my ears. That place was the stuff of nightmares to me.

There’s only one truly innocent ride in Disneyland — It’s A Small World. But the case could be made that cruising through room after room of unblinking, perpetually smiling, singing dolls is actually kind of creepy. You can very well imagine the place to be populated with the offspring of Chucky and Annabelle.

Okay, okay, don’t get me wrong. I love Disneyland.

In fact, I love the place so much I would make it an annual vacation destination if allowed by family and finances. I love every ride at Disneyland, and so do my kids. We’ve been to the park five times over the past ten years, and always for multiple days because you just don’t rush through it.

And those scary rides? They’re the best. Every time we visit, those are the rides we rack up the frequent rider miles on. Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder, Indiana Jones, Snow White. We get off and get right back on. The spookier it is, the more we want to ride it. During our last trip, my son and I set a personal record for Pirates of the Caribbean. 10 times in a 10-hour day.

We always have a blast being scared and bedazzled by the skulls and snakes and man-eating whales. Part of the magic of Disney is knowing that the things that frighten are just for fun. I’ve never seen bigger smiles on my kids’ faces than when they’re jumping out of their seats after something has shocked them silly.

Of course, as you get older you start to think that the best ride is in the little circle at the end of Main Street, next to the statue of Walt and Mickey. There you can find a lovely green bench, from which you can comfortably sit and watch the crowds go by. The way tourists act and dress might just be scarier than anything else you see in the park.

An undead pirate on the Pirates Lair

An undead pirate at the Pirates Lair

A denizen of the Matterhorn

A denizen of the Matterhorn

Skulls everywhere!

Skulls everywhere!

All photos by Idaho Dad