My Son Won’t Talk to Me!

My son didn’t talk until he was almost three years old.

It kind of runs in the genes. I didn’t talk until I was four.

By the time he was eight, he wouldn’t stop talking. His vocabulary was huge, and the ideas coming out of his head were sometimes stunning. But the problem back then was the speed of his words. He spoke slowly and carefully, a by-product of years of speech therapy with Miss Erica encouraging him to “Sound. Out. The Words.”

Most adults had the patience to hear him out, but many kids his age did not. They would interrupt or talk over him, which would cause frustration and increasing shyness on his part.

One day, in 2006, we were at the park when a friend my son hadn’t seen in a long time ran up to him and started talking a mile a minute about how his summer went. My son couldn’t get a word in, and when the friend finally asked him a question, he seemed overwhelmed to try and match the speed at which the other boy had been talking.

It was like PBS talking to MTV.

I tried not to call attention to his speech mannerisms. Pointing out his careful enunciation of words and the frequent pauses in his sentences might have made him overly self-conscious to where he might simply stop trying.

In those early years, my son would practice reading out loud from his books during the school day. We also had frequent give-and-take discussions about topics that popped up during his studies, covering everything from medieval history to alternative energy.

Verbal communication is an underrated skill, and one which has fallen by the wayside in our schools. I don’t mean just public speaking, but also the simple act of carrying on a coherent conversation with another person.

So, we kept working at it, taking little steps but making great strides in his speech development. Over time I hoped that the speed of his words would match the speed of his thoughts, so he would have another tool with which to express himself to the world.

Fast forward to today, and my son is 16 years old. He can still appear overly quiet and shy. That’s just his way. Again, it probably runs in the genes. However, once he gets warmed up, the words gush forth like a fire hose putting out a wildfire. No longer do those words trip over his tongue, and the awkward stammer that sometimes punctuated his thoughts are a distant memory.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when he was a toddler and would scrunch up his face in frustration trying to make us understand what he wanted.

“I want… I want…” he would struggle, but with such great determination that we knew he would get there eventually.

Now my son has no problem telling us what he wants. And thinks. And knows. He will not hesitate to paint and dance and wrestle with the English language.

The lesson he learned over his lifetime is that anything is possible with hard work and patience. It will not be easy, but it can be done.

My son is now taking college courses at the local community college, working concurrently on both a high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree. It’s another difficult goal requiring that same hard work and patience.

So far, he’s found college work to be manageable, and even a little fun.

And, for one class, ironic.

Speech Communication. The one subject he spent so much of his early life overcoming was the one in which he was the most nervous.

For his first presentation, he was sure that the words wouldn’t come. That he would struggle with enunciation. That the stammer would return. But you don’t put in all that work for all those years just to have it disappear. On the day, he stood before the audience and did his best. But for a few technical slips on oral footnotes, he delivered a wonderful speech.

I’m excited to see where his burgeoning communication skills take him next. I know he’s just getting warmed up.

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.

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.

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!”

Christmas Love/Hate

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas.

I love setting up the Christmas tree, lights, and assorted decorations.

I hate taking them down just because they never seem to fit back in the boxes I took them out of!

I love looking out at the snow.

I hate driving in the snow.

I love giving fun toys and games to my kids.

I hate that nobody ever gives ME fun toys and games anymore.

I love listening to Christmas music.

I hate listening to Christmas music, ’round about midnight of December 25th.

I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they open their presents.

I hate having to figure out where to put all this new stuff they’re getting.

I love the cookies and treats.

I hate that my clothes won’t fit right for weeks after.

I love watching A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and Christmas Vacation with my kids. And, after they go to bed, watching Love, Actually with my wife.

I hate that there are so many horrible Christmas movies out there, like Deck The Halls and Jingle All The Way.

I love egg nog ice cream.

I hate peppermint ice cream.

I love forgetting about the world’s troubles for just a few days.

I hate that the troubles seem to always return in a worse way.

What do you love/hate about Christmas?

Our Culture of Fear

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been so credulous.” – Carl Sagan

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m feeling a little bamboozled lately after reading various reports about the realities of crime and child abduction in this country.

After all, I have long recognized that America’s mass media thrives upon the Culture of Fear that it helped to create. But still, when it comes to the safety of children, I’ve been first in line to sound the alarm and spread the word about caution and awareness.

So now I learn that out of the roughly 800,000 kids that go missing in this country each year, the FBI estimates that only 100 to 200 of them are victims of the most serious type of non-family abductions, news of which fills parents with dread and distrust toward any stranger who looks twice at their children.

Better yet, violent crime in our country is at an all-time low and has been on a steady decline for the past thirty years. But you won’t see that in the headlines. TV and newspapers seem to be only interested in scaring us, rather than informing us of the real level of risk. And why would they want to do that?

Maintaining a certain level of fear and anxiety is good for corporate profits. Because behind every good newspaper, magazine, and TV station is a corporation that has something it wants to sell that will make us feel better about stepping out our front door into that great big scary world.

And the media is only giving the people what they want. Viewers are fascinated with stories of missing, murdered or abused children. It could be that busy parents, who shuttle their kids from one organized activity to another, may actually turn to these horrible news reports to comfort and allay their feelings of guilt over losing control of their own children.

Whatever the explanation, it certainly seems to be a vicious circle of corporate marketers, mass media, and viewers/readers. I don’t believe those first two entities are willing to accurately analyze and report the reality of our world, so it’s up to the audience, especially parents, to refuse to be bamboozled.

The first step is to stop watching TV news, the worst offenders of exaggerating the incidence of child abductions. After that, find news organizations that deal in facts and figures. Become more optimistic and seek out the truth about the world around you. It’s not such a bad place.

The Electric Shave

My first experience with shaving was trimming a few chin hairs with a pair of dull safety scissors. I was 14 or 15, and my cheeks were slow to start growing any kind of facial hair. The scissors sufficed for a few months, but eventually the 5 or 6 stray hairs turned into dozens, and then hundreds. I found my brother’s old electric shaver in a bathroom drawer and started using that to groom myself. 30 years later, I still value the speed and efficiency of an electric shaver.

Now, my son has signaled that he’s ready to join the long line of electricians in his family with a request for a shaver of his own. Luckily, Philips Norelco was willing to set him up with their new Click & Style. It’s an all-in-one shaving and grooming tool and, quite frankly, it’s the best shaver I’ve ever seen.

Norelco Click and Style

The beauty of the Click & Style are the three separate attachments. First, a shaver attachment, with rotary blades. Second, a beard trimmer. And third, a foil style shaver/trimmer. That really covers all the bases for whatever body hair needs to be groomed. All three attachments give you ultimate control and precision for a clean, smooth shave.

My son is finding it much easier to “manscape” with the Click & Style. So easy, in fact, that he can even multi-task while using it. Apparently, this is a thing. People don’t just stand at the mirror and shave anymore. They eat, brush their teeth, read, text, and play video games while grooming themselves. Continue reading