The misadventures of a first time father

Kindermusik

The beat of the drums. The shaking of maracas. And our son running around a room wanting to play with a hula hoop on the wall.

It’s Kindermusik time.

What’s Kindermusik? I will explain to you, as I was completely unaware myself until Meg sent me the links one day that led to our signing the little guy up for our once a week outings.

Kindermusik is a musical class for kids and parents that uses music, singing, stories (and some occasional hopping and animal re-enactments) to help children as they develop fundamental skills. Those skills, for the toddler level that we’re currently enrolled in, is very much of the listening kind. It’s something we are, at times, struggling with, which makes the class all the more appropriate at this stage.

At the age level of our class (ages 2-3), parents are invited to take part with their children, which for us first-timers is good because we’re not quite at the ‘leave him on his own for a class’ stage yet ourselves. We’ll get there. Promise.

The first session, I went solo with the little guy. There were some kids and parents who were regulars and some other first-timers like us. When we walked into the carpeted room, walls adorned with animals and musical paraphernalia, instruments were in the middle of the room for the kids to try. Our guy immediately gravitated toward the triangle. Although, in all honesty, several minutes into it, the banging of the triangle had lost all novelty and he was using the wand (is it called a wand? I’m not a musician) to both be a conductor (shouting ‘Look, Dada! I’m a conductor! to the entire class) or to point it at me and tell me it was a magic wand (“I gonna shrink you now, dada!”) proceeded by a humming sound he makes to indicate magic.

I love his imagination.

The class itself had numerous, short activities that look to engage each of the kids (with parents joining in) from singing hello to each child with a different motion (clapping, rolling, stamping feet, etc) for each one, using the aforementioned maracas (which are more like little red eggs with rice in them, but they’re just as fun) and storytime with music to accompany it.

That first session’s storytime, it became obvious our guy was new to the group. Aside from being the tallest. He’s about to be three this summer, so in a class of 2-3 year olds, he falls on the older side of the spectrum in comparison to the others. When it was time for stories, some of the children, by routine, helped the instructor pull a blanket from the corner to set down and sit upon in order to hear the story. Well, our little guy hasn’t quite done that type of group storytime (at least not with a blanket involved. He HAS been to a few Barnes and Noble storytimes I’ve been involved with) and instead, he immediately put himself under the blanket, as though he was laying down in bed for one of our nightly stories.

You can’t blame him too much. That is HIS routine each night, after all and what he associates with hearing stories. Boy playing piano

Luckily, by week two, he had it down and was now only sitting ON the blanket, but was helping to move it for the teacher, which was great to see.

Both weeks had its moments (though for week two, both daddy AND mommy were there for class – and believe me, it was great having reinforcements) as he would have a mini meltdown if he wasn’t getting to use the instruments he wanted versus what the teacher wanted kids to use at the moment, or that he wanted the hula hoops hanging high up on the wall for use by another class.

It’s a 45 minute class and I suppose for a child, 45 minutes can seem like a longtime, especially one with as much energy as our has. The nice thing is that he’s not the only kid in the class who gets up and wanders around and the teacher is excellent in incorporating their individual attention spans and penchant for getting up into the class activities and discussion as they go.

I must have looked like a nervous wreck that first class, chasing him around whenever he’d go off for a wander, as a few of the moms there would smile and reassure me he was doing fine. After class, the teacher said the same thing, which was in stark contrast to the exaggerated nightmare version I was creating in my head.

And as I say, having both Meg and myself there the following week made a huge difference as well. Family doing the conga at family Christmas party

We had hoped by Week Three, we’d start finding a routine. I skipped out on the Week Three class and it was just Meg and he. I was having a rough morning mentally (more on that another time), and needed some time to reflect and re prioritize things. I chose to do that with a cup of coffee and sitting on a park bench.

When I returned to pick Meg and the little guy up, I immediately sensed things hadn’t gone well. Apparently it was the worst he had been yet. Not just the running around, but the constant not listening, hitting Meg, hitting the teacher, and riding another kid like a dinosaur, it was one big terrible, musical mess.

People tell us that at this stage of almost three years old, it’s a phase. And I’m sure it is. But while it may be a phase, these are issues. Issues we need to deal with now so that when the phase ends, the seeds aren’t planted for continued bad behavior and dismissiveness to everyone around him.

It’s worrisome. And likely a much more involved blog post for another day when I have time to both reflect on what’s happening, our approach, be it right or wrong, and do a little more research.

When it comes to Kindermusik, the end results those first two weeks were that he had fun.We had hoped him taking part in his very first class, interacting with a teacher and other kids would be good for him. At first, he got over the meltdowns and while wanting to do his own thing at times, was still taking part in the bulk of class activities. But last week seems like a major step backward.

Through a mere glitch in our schedule this week, we were unable to attend our usual class and shifted to another day of the week and time of day. It turned out that there were only two other children in that class, and making for a much better experience for us and the little guy. While he wasn’t necessarily angelic, he was much better behaved than he had been in the large group. Whether or not that’s the key to some progress as we move along, well, we’ll have to see.

“Father’s Day with Thomas the Tank Engine” OR “Sir Topham Hatt is very cross with you”

You know, just chillin' with my buddy, Sir Topham Hatt.

You know, just chillin’ with Sir Topham Hatt.

What? No blog entry on Father’s Day? You’re a dad blogger for crying out loud!

There’s a very simple reason I am blogging about Father’s Day today and not yesterday. I was too busy enjoying it.

Father’s Day was an absolute delight for me. I got up and Meg had made a wonderful breakfast for us of toast, eggs, bacon and hashbrowns with blue potatoes! After the delicious meal, we got ourselves dressed and headed out to the historic train station in my hometown for “A Day Out with Thomas” (as in, the tank engine).

The courtyard of the station was filled with activities for the family, ranging from a safety house by the fire department, to a table stationed by two police officers talking about safety tips for kids and families.

We rode a little train car around an enclosure with other families, got our picture taken with Sir Topham Hatt, where the little guy became instantly shy. Later he would tell me he was worried Sir Topham Hatt would be ‘cross’ with him, something that is a frequent habit when the trains do something wrong on the show.

Then, with a large whistle and puff of steam, along the tracks came Thomas, bright blue and red, pulling passenger cars behind him. Together, the three of us made our way inside, up stairs, down an overpass and back down to the other side of the tracks. As passengers from a previous ride got off, we walked up to the front of the train, where Thomas greeted us. Eyes and mouth moving, he literally came to life in front of us, and our little guy ‘beamed, from buffer to buffer,’ as they say.

Soon after, we boarded, the familiar sounds of songs from the show playing in the train and before we knew it, we were off, Thomas us pushing us about 15 minutes out of town, through a marsh, and our little guy glued to the window the whole time.

train 01He sang, surprising us with how many of the songs he knew and sang right along with, and pointed out all the characters that decorated the train windows as decals. He even got a certificate declaring him a Junior Conductor.

When the train returned to the station about a half hour later, we decided to hit up some of the other activities. I was relieved we had gotten pictures with Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt out of the way early on, as the lines at this point had grown crazy. Not good for an antsy child.

He gravitated toward a sand table, digging his hands into the gritty brown stuff, made a little wet by the myriad of constant bubbles coming from a machine nearby and saturating all the sand. He pushed trucks through it, let it sift through his hands…and then suddenly decided to tell other kids coming and playing in it that they couldn’t use the toys. We raised our voices and he begrudgingly conceded. When it happened again, we decided it was time to move on. We gave him one minute to wrap up. It wasn’t long before that minute arrived and we told him it was time to head to the gift shop before heading out.

And then came the meltdown.

Face red,eyes squinted. Mouth gaping open, wailing and screaming as if I was hurting him. All because it was time to move on.

I felt like the eyes of every parents and child at the train station in that moment were on us, wondering what the heck we were doing. Telling him we were going, asking him to take a breath and count to four, talking to him, being stern – nothing worked. It was a mess.

By the time we got to the car and loaded back up, he stopped screaming but was whiny, and we talked about our displeasure, discussing wiith him why he was being bad and had to go. I know. I know. Terrible Twos. Threenager. I’ve heard ‘em all. But in those moments, it doesn’t make it any easier.

We drove around in the car, making a stop to grab some cat food and then grabbing some lunch. By this time, he was calm, but tired. We even had trouble getting him to stand up in line. He kept doing the ‘jelly knees’ where he’d go limp and we’d be forced to continually try to pick him up just to make it to a table.

By the time lunch was over, and he held his head in that little hand, he finally admitted that he was tired. It was somewhat after noon and we were approaching what would normally be nap time.

And, whether sleep-deprived or just plain loopy, he turned to me and said “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!”

As much as the meltdowns drive me nuts, causing me to question absolutely everything I do as a parent, looking at the day as a whole, they were a pretty small fraction. When I look past that (knowing we’re working to deal with it as best we can), and think of that boy who was bounding with a smile so big it was as if his face developed extra muscles at the site of Thomas, the laughter and awe as he looked out the window of the moving train, I realize, it was a pretty damn good day.

One Gorilla

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/518df2Onf4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother book recently came our way from Independent Publishers Group – “One Gorilla” by Joy Dey and Nikki Johnson. Amid pages of watercolor images of various animals is a story of one good deed leading to another among the mighty creatures of the jungle, big and small.

The overall message of the book is great – that even one small act of kindness might be all it takes for a domino effect that changes the world, or your world at least. The animals of the jungle begin the story ready to pounce, to cackle, to frighten and to scare. But when a chimp, who often throws rocks and items at his animal neighbors, falls out of a tree and hits his head, he is the subject of laughter and ridicule by other animals. It’s not so nice being on the receiving end, the chimp learns. A helping hand from an elephant, who knows the hurt all too well, marks a sudden change in the jungle. The laughter stops, and the chimp begins to show the same kindness the elephant gave her. And it spreads through the jungle, even to the smallest turtle.

I really liked the message the book set out to deliver, and the watercolor images to accompany it are honestly unlike anything I’ve seen in a children’s book so far. I admit that it took me a little bit to register everything that was going on as we read.

We read this book, blindly, at bedtime, and the first part of the story, with the animals ready to hunt, prey, laugh, etc, alongside the splashes of paint, made some of the creatures seem a little nightmarish. But I quickly learned this was an intentional decision, as it sets up the jungle as a scary and not so kind place, leading to the change when one good act leads to another.

As we turned those pages, our 2 ½ year old there with us, I became a little anxious, unsure of where the story was going. In the end, I was able to see exactly what I think the author and illustrator set out to do – create a world of fright and mean behavior in the jungle, until one elephant acts kind enough to set off a chain reaction of good actions.

It works, and while I may have been apprehensive at first, I should have had more faith in my own son’s ability to grasp it, which he did far quicker than I. He knew the animals were acting bad at first, but started to be kind once they saw an example of it. And it must have struck a chord, as it wasn’t long before he asked for “the gorilla book” again.

Sick Day

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationAlthough I have a lifetime of parenting to regret this statement, at this stage of the game, one of the most frustrating parts of parenthood is when your kid is sick and there’s nothing you can really do about it other than let it run its course.

The little guy is currently under the weather (an appropriate phrase, I guess, as it’s been cool and rainy the past few days). At first we thought it was allergies, but a few days in and suddenly it was more than red, itchy eye. The eye is not longer red, but there’s trouble sleeping, coughing, a runny and sniffly nose, and a fever (which, based on the past, always puts us a bit on edge).

The past two nights he hasn’t slept that great, either coughing throughout the hours or just plain crying. This morning, his fever was gone when he woke, but as the morning progressed has gone back up again. He’s coughing, but not as ‘croupy’ as he was last night, and he’s in good spirits, playing (albeit a little slower than normal) with mama (who, also isn’t feeling all that great as of today).

Per past experience with his fever/seizure episode, we’ve been using Little Remedies Fever Reducer to try and keep the fever down, and make sure he has plenty of fluids, starting out his day with some orange juice and apple juice, per his own request. When he’s in his room and/or sleeping, we run a cold mist humidifier to hopefully break up the stuffiness in his head.

The dreary weather, I think, is actually a blessing in disguise, as the last thing I think either of us would want to do is argue with him that he wants to go run around outside because it’s sunny out. So it’s the perfect weather to let him play, relax, watch some cartoons and just try to take it easy. Although that’s a relative term. Telling him to relax and rest often leads to a whirlwind run about the entire house.

Still, it’s frustrating, knowing there’s only so much you can do. But I suppose that’s what a lot of parenthood is about – doing your best for your kid, but knowing when you have to just support and let him (or in this case, his body and immune system) do his thing.

Knocking down debt with the snowball method – another update

Eight years ago, I was single, working as a newspaper reporter and living on my own in an apartment.

Oh, yeah. I was also buried in debt – student loans, credit cards, car payments, you name it.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but as I’ve chronicled here in the past, I put all this out there for two reasons. The first is as a motivator. By admitting to the mistakes of my past, publicly, I hope to be less likely to repeat them. The second is because it is a reminder for me of just how far I’ve been able to come at eliminating debt.

Back then, I felt trapped, helpless, that this was going to be the way it was for the rest of my life and there was no way I could possibly get myself out of it. At times, I even took the absolutely wrong approach of looking at myself as a victim. I blamed the credit card companies, I blamed the banks, I blamed everybody because I felt ‘preyed upon’ in my youth, I didn’t know what I was getting into, etc. That didn’t help matters.

But in time, I realized I had to sink or swim. I got serious about it early on, but my desire to “clear up the books” only intensified when Meg and I got married, and hit overdrive when we had our little guy and began to realize that one day, there’s a good chance we could outgrow our house.

Before he was born in 2012, I had managed to clear up the credit card debt and now live completely credit card free. It’s incredibly liberating. Planning budgets, spending only what you have, saving for something if you really want it. It’s like a great big puzzle, but one that is so absolutely satisfying when you’re not owing money (and interest) to someone.

We bought our current house as a foreclosure and fixed it up, keeping our mortgage low but putting a nice roof over our heads and a warm place for our family to grow.

With the credit cards paid off, I began, as noted in earlier posts, to focus on student loan debt via Dave Ramsey’s Snowball Method to debt. With four student loan lenders, I took focus on one at a time (making regular payments to three of them), but throwing as much extra money as I could at the one with the smallest balance.

We’re often told to go for the one with the highest interest rate, but there’s a psychological aspect to paying something off. It motivates, it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, and hitting the lowest balances first allows you to do that and feel great about it, making you want to move on to the next.

So for me, I tackled Keybank. Once they were paid off, I moved on to National Education, taking all the money I was paying each month to Keybank and ‘snowballing it’ on top of my regular National Education payment. Before I knew it, I had that student loan paid off as well.

That then led me to two student loans and a car payment. The car payment was the lowest balance between all three, so I took the payments I was making to Keybank and National Education and snowballed them on top of my car payment, which has just recently allowed me to pay off my car more than a year early.

It really feels incredible.

This is where I was in May 2014:

National Education – $1,500

Car Payment – $6,800

Sallie Mae – $12,200

Discover/Citibank Student Loan – $23,000

Here’s where I was in September 2014:

Car Payment – $4,833

Sallie Mae – $11,878

Discover/CitiBank Student Loan – $21,379

And here’s where I stand now:

Sallie Mae – $11,379

Discover/CitiBank Student Loan – $19,386

I’m not one who needs a new car every few years and believe me, if I can maintain the one I have and get it to last as long as possible, I will be thrilled to do so, because now I own it. No bank, no dealer, just me.

Believe me. I’m the guy who is still using the old 4:3 television set I got as a Christmas gift from my parents in college 15 years ago as the family TV in our living room. I’m not one obsessed with spending money on the latest and greatest.

Of course, now there is all that money that was going toward these snowballed car payments each month, which has totaled out to roughly $700.

So, from here, I stood at a crossroads, determining what to do with that $700. If I were to continue on in the purest form of Dave Ramsey’s Snowball Method, I would take that $700 and apply it on top of one of the two remaining student loans. But, there’s other things I’m taking into consideration, including the possibility of needing another car eventually and the fact that one day, we might need to be looking for another house if our family grows out of the current one.

With that in mind, I’m doing a sort of ‘partial snowball effect’ from hereon in, taking $200 of that car payment money and applying $100 extra toward each of my student loans (Discover and Sallie Mae). It will likely take about five years to pay them each off, but that’s better than the 9 remaining years if I were keep making basic payments on each.

That leaves $500 of non-earmarked money that can be put away for any variety of things – whether that be some toward an emergency down payment for a car one day, a little money put aside for Christmas shopping, building savings, or just eventually being able to have some more money to put toward a mortgage if we decide it’s time to find a new home.

I’m not writing this to brag. The reason I’m doing this is because I once felt so buried that I saw absolutely no hope that my life could get better, but it did. It took time. It took cutting back, living a little more simple, not having everything.

But the feeling of a possible future that’s not tied to a shackle of debt is one that can and will keep me going.

Sleeping kitties and spinning plates

"Quit hoggin' the covers."

                “Quit hoggin’ the covers.”

Of all our three cats, nobody is the bundle of love that is our Jasper. While our other two have their moments of wanting some love, Jasper has been ever-consistent since the day he arrived and first curled into Meg’s lap and went to sleep on our front porch.

Just as early upon his arrival, shortly after we would call it a night, the sound of little paws could be heard hurrying up the stairs and leaping onto our bed, making his way over the cloud of sheets into the middle of the bed. He waits for us to lift the sheet or comforter so that he can tunnel in, turn around so his head sticks out at the head of the bed, and then plops down on one side, usually with a paw on Meg, and quickly dozes off.

The other night, as Meg and Jasper slept, his purring next to me lulling me into a relaxed state of sleep myself, my mind began to wander. And it wandered to the realization that things won’t be like this forever. For a while if we’re lucky, yes, but not forever. Sadly, nothing is. It all began to hit me like an emotional avalanche at that point. Every night this amazing little kitty curls up like a child between us, giving us more unconditional love than probably any human is capable, and yet, how often do I stop to realize just how amazing that is? How often do I stop to appreciate it?

Let’s broaden the scope a bit beyond Jasper, because my realization was prompted by but in no means limited to his furry, lovable little self.

I’m often a victim of my own drive to do things, cornering myself into a routine and life made up of to-do lists, projects and whatever the next priority is. I don’t know what it stems from. Sometimes I think it’s because I have some (possibly irrational) obsession with creating, making things, doing things, leaving something behind (be it a website, a book, a blog, a comic, a film, or any other project I tend to be working on at the moment). Because of this, there is constantly a list of things to be scratched off my planner each day, or the dry erase board next to my desk.

But the side effect of this drive to constantly having many irons in the fire is that I literally live a life controlled by lists, motivated by crossing something off that list, completing a project and immediately looking to what the next project is.

And in the meantime, I’m never stopping to appreciate the life around me – the people, the places, the events, the emotions and yes, the cats like Jasper.

I often like to quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. “

And that seems to be exactly what’s happening. I’m 35 years old. It seems like I blinked and 18-34 were gone, already a lifetime ago. And yet, I’m still going at the same speed on a million different things as I have all those years past instead of stopping to realize and appreciate all the wonderful people around me – my wife, my son, my parents, my brother, our cats, our neighbors, our friends – and truly enjoy the time I have with these folks while it’s available. Because before I know it, the next 35 years will be by in a blink, and no amount of blog posts, comics written, films made, books published, will ever be able to make up for it.

This isn’t a blueprint for how I’m going to do it, because honestly, I’m not quite sure. But I’m hoping that, much like other issues, admitting to it and realizing that it’s a problem might be the place to start.

A Headline of Some Importance this Mother’s Day (well, for us anyway)…

Here we go again. That media, making a big deal out of everything. Okay. It is kind of a big deal. ;)

Since we’re both pretty big fans of the satirical newspaper The Onion, this seemed like a natural approach for ‘the big reveal,’ as it were. Fortunately, our son turned out to have pretty good timing and inherited his father’s hammy acting. :)

In all seriousness, we’re very excited.

(you can click to enlarge, if you like)

The Rutabega - Copy copy


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