Grocery Store Meltdown

In the middle of my grocery shopping yesterday, I was alarmed by a child’s ear-piercing gurgling scream of terror coming from one aisle over. It worried me enough to rush to investigate, thinking some kid had fallen from a shopping cart or, worse, was being attacked by a pack of rabid badgers (hey, you never know). With phone in hand, ready to dial 911, I ran around the corner into the cereal aisle.

Well, like they say, if you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebras.

It was what you’d expect. A toddler wanted the box of chocolatey candy-coated sugar puff cereal, and mom was opting for the much healthier Cheerios.

It had been awhile since I’d experienced a grocery store meltdown, so it took me by surprise.

My own children were above such things.

No, they had their meltdowns at Toys R Us, like any respectable toddler should.

The grocery store incident reminded me of one time, however, when my daughter went off script and had a bunch of people worried.

It was ten years ago, when she was three…

We were in Sandpoint, Idaho, poking around the touristy downtown area. We stopped at the Cedar Street Bridge to browse the Coldwater Creek store there. I don’t know about you, but we don’t buy stuff at Coldwater Creek, we only browse… It’s much easier on the checkbook.

Anyway, in the middle of our browsing, our daughter started her little dance and whispered, “Mommy, I have to go…” so off to the nearest bathroom on the upper level of the bridge. My son and I looked at old photos on the wall while we waited. Soon a middle-aged couple and their friend stopped to look at the photos too. Just then, the screaming began.

“No no no! Aiiiieeee! Bwaaaaggghh! Gurgle! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” Something like that anyway. I didn’t react at all. Why should I? I hear this stuff practically every day. But the couple next to us became very concerned, probably because of a recent child abduction that had brought national attention to our area. The woman didn’t waste much time and announced that she was “going to investigate!”

We waited a few moments, with a small crowd gathering, and me pretending not to know what’s going on. Pretty soon the woman emerged from the bathroom, spread her arms, palms out to calm the masses, and authoritatively stated, “It’s okay! Everything’s alright. She saw a spider web!”

Audible sighs of relief followed, and the crowd dispersed, glad in the knowledge that the screams of terror coming from the public restroom were simply a little girl freaking out over a dusty old spider web.

I’m glad those days are long over.

Try To Be A Man

If you’re a stay-at-home dad, then you’ve seen the disapproving looks and heard the snide comments. At first it bothers you, but after awhile you realize that the animosity usually stems from either ignorance or jealousy.

And where do these looks and comments come from? Oh, just about everywhere. Family, friends, men, women, stay-at-home moms… But the worst are the golf-playing, beer-drinking, Minoxidil-rubbing, weight-pumping working dads. They have their own personal definition of what a man is supposed to be, and it sure as heck doesn’t include vacuuming, changing diapers, and cooking a healthy family meal.

I bring this up because I heard from one of the Neanderthals today, in a forum devoted to news and issues concerning the town in which I live.

He responded to me with this:

Try to be a man (really). Get a job and go to work.

Ten years ago, this comment would’ve made me flustered, because I was still figuring out my role as a stay-at-home dad. But now? Well, I just have a giggle over guys like this. If he really is so clueless to think that a dad who stays at home AND homeschools his kids is something less than a man, then that’s his problem.

I won’t even go into the “go to work” comment. Some days I wish I had an outside job to run to so I could take a break from the incredible amount of work involved in running a household and overseeing the education of my children. A desk piled with papers in a quiet air-conditioned office sounds like a vacation to me.

Actually, a bulldozer on a busy construction site sounds even better. I could definitely burn off some stress with one of those bad boys.

The point is, as a stay-at-home homeschooling dad, I have more to oversee, organize, approve, and accomplish than most dads who clock into a regular 9 to 5 job. I’m on call 24/7 and rarely get a break from my duties.

But that doesn’t make me more or less of a man than anyone else. It just means I’m a busy guy who doesn’t have time to banter with clueless message board trolls.

So, what is a man? Outside of the obvious anatomical explanations, I have no idea.

He is who he is. And he does his best with what he has.

If you have a better explanation, I’d love to hear it.

A Bigger Worry Than Ebola

The Ebola Virus is all over the news, maybe all over Texas by now, but you really don’t need to be worried about it just yet.

No, we are just starting cold and flu season, which generally runs from October to May.

That’s what you should be worried about.

However, if you use some common sense and preventative care, you might not even have to worry about cold and flu viruses, which will free up a lot of time to freak out about Ebola.

Here are a few uncommon facts about the common cold, from Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University… Continue reading

Ben Stein’s 10 Commandments of Fatherhood

In his 1998 book Tommy and Me, Ben Stein chronicles his feelings of frustration and joy of being a father. It’s a short book, at 152 pages, and contains many insights into parenting that made me stop and think. I especially enjoyed his concluding chapter. Here it is (in abridged form):

Ben Stein’s Ten Commandments of Fatherhood:

1. Time is of the essence. Spend large amounts of time with your child. Kids don’t want “quality time”… They want you to be there all the time.

2. Share your strength with your child. Be an ally, not an adversary. Share with him stories of your own fears, failings, and anxieties and how you overcame them.

3. Do not expect your child to make up for your own losses when you were a child. Let your kids pursue their own hopes and dreams.

4. Look for the good in your child and praise it. Children are nurtured by praise as plants are nurtured by water. Deny it to them at their peril and yours. Children who are told that they can succeed in fact usually do succeed.

5. Do not allow your children to be rude. Being polite is a basic foundation of human interaction, and kids will not succeed in life if they’re surly and disrespectful.

6. Patience is indispensable. Children’s behavioral flaws cannot be corrected by flipping a switch. It takes a long time and a lot of patience to teach positive behaviors. If you are an impatient, demanding, short-fused dad, you will get that irritable, demanding kind of kid.

7. Teach your child and let him teach you. Children will tell you what they want and need. Dads get into trouble when they do not listen to their kids and dismiss their feelings as not important. Also, your child should get the benefit of your wisdom and experience about life, so tell him what you know about the world around you. Learn from your children and let them learn from you.

8. Value your child for what he is, not for what you think he should be. I want my son to know that whatever he becomes in the future, he is prized just for being my son, right now.

9. Raising a child is a job for Mom and Dad. Children with absent fathers are wounded for the balance of their lives. Dad should and must be in there pitching along with Mom, helping out as an equal partner in the tough job of raising children. The true heroes of our generation are at home with their kids.

10. Being a Daddy is priority number one. When you decide that your kids come before your sales quota or your poker-playing schedule or your overtime to make partner, then you will find that all of the other pieces of Daddyhood fall into place – teaching and learning, patience, looking for the good and praising it. When you put your kids first, you are far less alone in this world. What’s more vital, so are they.

Making History

They did it.

Troop 3, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, became the first Boy Scout troop in the history of the Inland Northwest Council and the State of Idaho to travel to Great Britain and to walk the entire length of the Hadrian’s Wall Path.

They came, they saw, they blistered.

And they conquered the 84-mile trail from the North Sea to the Irish Sea.

They made history while seeing history.

It was a long journey, but worth every step. I’ll write more about it in the weeks to come.

I’m A Stay-At-Home Dad

I’m revisiting an article I wrote for the San Diego Reader in 2005. Because I’m still a stay-at-home dad, and I still mean every word I wrote.

Hi, I’m a stay-at-home dad.

Now, before your eyes glaze over and you slowly back away, let me just tell you why I am one. Most boys don’t spend their childhood dreaming of one day changing diapers, emptying dishwashers, washing pee-soaked bed sheets, kissing boo-boos, and learning to make chicken broccoli casserole. They want to be firemen, baseball stars, soldiers.

As they get older, most men strive for career, status, and a lower golf handicap. Me, I had early dreams of a Hollywood career, collaborating with the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, and Coppola. Later, after grad school, there were visions of corporate ladders and hostile takeovers.

But once my first child was born, everything changed, and my focus was placed squarely on the infant in my arms. Soon, my wife and I realized that one of us had to be home with him permanently. By financial default (my wife made more money than me), I was the lucky winner.

At first I had no idea how to be a father. Not having one around as a kid, I had no male role models to look to other than the ones I’d seen on TV. So I thought, “What would Charles Ingalls do? Or John Walton? Mike Brady? How about Darren Stevens?!”

Actually, I discovered a really good role model on TV in Fred Rogers. I listen to him most carefully still. He’s not just talking to pre-schoolers when he smiles into the camera and doles out sage advice… He’s talking to us grown-ups too when he says things like “You don’t have to look like everybody else to be acceptable and to feel acceptable.”

I learn a little wisdom from The Neighborhood most every single day. Plus, it’s fun to see how graham crackers and crayons are made.

So I found myself in this new role, and it didn’t take long to discover that it’s one of the most difficult, exhausting, emotionally-draining jobs in the world. It’s also the most rewarding. I get paid with hugs, smiles, and the occasional funny quote from my kids, like when my son learned that some animals are herbivores and some are carnivores, so he figured, “Hey, Daddy, I’m a Candyvore!”

I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing than to be my kids’ dad. It’s how I introduce myself to people when they ask what I do for a living. And it sure feels good to say that. I must be pretty good at my job, since just the other day my son said “When I grow up I want to be a daddy too!”

Taking on the role of Daddy meant giving up a few other things that once defined me, including a few friends who didn’t understand why I was no longer sitting at a desk and earning an income.

But I don’t really miss the old life. This new one brings new adventures and challenges every single day. And I go out and solve the problems and figure out the challenges, every now and then seeking advice from the memory of some old TV show, like Little House on the Prairie when my daughter tells a fib, or The Brady Bunch when my son teases his sister.

I’ve long given up attempting to explain to people I meet what I do and why I do it. Most folks just don’t understand. They’re either confused, condescending, or highly critical. Surprisingly, stay-at-home moms are the worst, almost like I’m attempting to gain membership into their exclusive club. The moms don’t accept me, the dads don’t understand me.

Luckily I meet enough welcoming parents, including other stay-at-home dads, who also realize that having one parent at home with the kids is the best way to raise them. Daycares are fine for single moms and dads who have no other support, but when a child has two parents in their lives it should have at least one of them as the daily caregiver.

So, I’m a stay-at-home dad. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to feel sorry. I love what I’m doing (except for folding laundry) and, more importantly, I love my kids. Doing right by them is just about the only thing that’s really important to me. Why would I want to do anything else?