The misadventures of a first time father

Saturday night pickings

Lock PickParenthood can be a lot of things. Exciting. Frustrating. Heartwarming. Exhausting. Joyous.

And sometimes, parenthood can be spending your Saturday night picking the lock on your bathroom door because a certain five year old boy was curious about what would happen if he pushed the button inside then closed it behind him on the way out.

So it was to the internet we went to learn just what it takes to work a push-button lock from the other side and how it all operates.

It’s amazing what you can learn about things you have in your daily lives but don’t think too much about until you need to.

After about 20 minutes and a trial run of various tools, from screwdrivers of varying sizes, a nail file, and other household tools that didn’t work or reach what they needed to, it was a paperclip from the desk drawer that proved to be just what was needed to reach far enough into the lock from the small opening and pop the lock on the other side.

So while initially and admittedly frustrated, some patience, along with the power of a paperclip, paid off.

For my next trick, I pick the vault lock of the Gotham National Bank! Mwa-ha-ha!

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You don’t have to be friends with everyone

lonely childI was driving our son to school recently when, staring out the back window at the houses and businesses passing us by, he suddenly asked why one of the kids at school didn’t want to be his friend.

“I say hello and I’m nice to them, but they tell me they don’t want to be my friend.”

This was not a conversation I expected to get into within the time frame of a car ride to school. But, there we were. We were doing this, whether I was ready or not, so I had to wing it.

I said, “Buddy, not everybody has to like you. Or us. You are a wonderful person. You are kind. You are smart. You are funny, and you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are all those things. But even with all that, there are still going to be people you come across who just, no matter how nice you try to be, will not be the same. It doesn’t mean you should stop being who you are, please don’t do that, but just remember that there are going to be people who just don’t want to be friends. With you. With me. With anyone. You have to keep being you and let the people who don’t want to be a part of that go.”

It’s okay when people don’t click together. You are choosing who you spend your time with, so why spend the time and energy on someone who takes all your energy, your support, and your air?

Even adults struggle with this. How many of us deal with toxic people in our lives, or our workplace, who no matter how nice you try to be, no matter how much you reach out, you’re constantly left feeling drained and defeated as if you did something wrong. We grown-ups are not immune to these feelings either. Even we need to learn to continue on our way and not expend all we have to give for nothing but drainage in return.

It was only within a few days later that he told us that he saw this schoolmate and cheerfully greeted them with a “Good morning!” to receive a mean-spirited “Duh!” in response. I asked him what happened after that, to which he said “I just smiled and kept on going my own way.”

Keep on your own way. It’s the only way that’s right for you.

The life you’re watching online is not perfect, and it’s okay if yours is not

messA toddler goes running through the room, a kindergartner close behind, if not passing her from room to room. Calls to cut it out fall upon tiny, deaf ears. An infant now awake and needing to be held. Laundry piling, baths to be given, meals to be made and eaten. Work. The baby’s crying again. Bills. Holidays. Yard work. The kindergartner just got his toddler sister upset and she’s screaming. Transportation. School. Groceries. Now it’s the other way around and the kindergartner is crying.

Life…can be and has been a bit of a challenge as of late. At times, it’s downright overwhelming.

We’re adjusting to life from two to three, doing so on very little sleep, and just trying to keep the household functioning on even the most basic level. What used to be divide and conquer is now one handles the baby while the other manages the two eldest. Or, in some scenarios, all three if one is not available (I’m thinking of a recent nighttime appointment I had where Meg was left with all three kids on her own).

Why am I telling you this? What purpose does it serve?

It’s because I’m being honest with you. I’m letting you know that life, for all its joyous feelings, of all the warmth of a growing family we wouldn’t change or give up for the world, it, yes, can be a challenge or just plain overwhelming.

I say this honestly because it is easy to get down on oneself when we live amid what often seems like a perfect world, always outside of our own, whomever we are, when we glimpse the lives of others through the lens of social media. Most of what we see is not honesty. Maybe it’s partially true, but it’s cherry-picked. It’s a best-of reel, hand selected to present an image and persona of perfection. But it’s not. They’re just crafted to make you think they are.

walk on the pier

“Family decided on a spontaneous walk together across this pier. Crazy day but wouldn’t trade it for anything.” Wait. Who took this totally candid, not at all planned picture?

We hear a lot about it when it comes to teens, growing up in a digital world that many of us only walked into when we were in college or adults. But these days, between a plethora of social media networks, the same desire for acceptance, for validation, has crossed the age threshold into many adults who litter their online presence with only the moments of perfection. But life isn’t perfect, for anyone. It can be fun. It can be crazy. It can be full of love. But life is also full of flaws, of failures, of tripping up and learning. Life gets messy, but somehow so many feel it a taboo topic to talk about let alone show.

treehouse couple

“No better way to end the day than with a cup of our hand-mulled wine in the treehouse we found time to make in the backyard during naptime out of repurposed wood.”

Instead, people try to gloss over the imperfections of life that shape us for a shiny veneer that looks great from the outside.

So, please, remember that the next time you start doubting yourself, your own life, because of what you see on social media. You’re doing great. And if you don’t need to litter social media with curated images that reflect a life unlike the one you’re living, then you know what? You’re doing even better.

Three’s Company – car seat edition

Car Seats 04

where we were a month ago

Come and knock on our door…

Just don’t make it the car door. We’re maxed out on space.

Hard to believe that just over a month ago we were still parents of two, that we hadn’t met our wonderful, second daughter, nor knew that she was even going to be a girl (we like the surprise), and that at the time we were still lamenting over how we were going to make three children (and three carseats) work in our existing (and paid off) cars.

New cars (even new-used) weren’t an option as the money just wasn’t there for monthly payments. So we read, and read, and read. And we ordered, and purchased, and tried, and returned.

And we’ve hit upon something that, lo and behold, seems like it’s working.

Meg owns a 2009 Kia Sportage, while I have a 2011 Chevy Cruze – two very different vehicles, but the parameters we’re challenged to make work with.

We knew that with a newborn baby, we didn’t want to be picking the baby up and down to get into the car if we didn’t have to, so keeping the Graco click and connect ‘bucket seats’ were huge on the priority list if we could make it happen.

We even called in my dad, who we jokingly call the master of spacial relations, honed through years of enjoying Tetris on the home computer. And between all of us, here’s what we came up with:

2009 Kia Sportage

new car seats 03

three seats, one Sportage

The Graco bucket seat placed in the middle means a bit of a reach to get the baby in an out, but was necessary to get our son’s Graco Highback Turbooster seat on one side for the shoulder strap seat belt that it requires. On the other side is a Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat for our two year-old girl. The Diono proved to be skinny enough to help make configurations work but well-built and sturdy enough to feel secure.

Now, all that said, it’s important to note that it IS a tight fit between the booster and the infant bucket seat. I say this because, of course, the thing with a booster is that you’re using belt buckles like you would elsewhere in the car, not latch systems like you do with the Diono on the other side. And it DOES take some maneuvering to get the buckle into the latch. Having the bucket seat base next to the booster, though, does provide some maneuverability to finagle the belt into the latch as needed. Due to where the seatbelts all fall (on the same side of the car), it meant this was the only configuration where this would work – bucket in the middle, Diono behind the driver and booster behind the passenger. Otherwise, we could in no way get the booster’s belt buckle in to click. Regardless, it does mean that for the time being, we adults will have to buckle him in and out versus doing it himself, but it works for the situation we were faced with. And will change as the baby grows and moves into other seats herself.

 

2011 Chevy Cruze

new car seats 01

The amazing disappearing back seat!

Faced with an even smaller backseat than the Kia Sportage, my Chevy Cruze proved a bit more challenging. But I’m glad to say that we made it work and yes, kept the Graco click and connect bucket seat for the infant in the mix.

With the bucket seat in the middle, we used two Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seats on either side for our little guy and now the eldest of our two girls (still weird to say that). The Diono’s thin but sturdy frame meant it fit within the confines of the backseat. It just meant that we had to ditch using a booster in my car (you’d never get to the seat belt) and use the Diono on either side and their latch system.

So, there we have it. Three seats for three kids in both cars. Yes, there was the expense of buying three new car seats (the Dionos) and one Graco booster, but that cost far outweighed what would be new car payments for each of us every month. And while we’ve been primarily using my Chevy Cruze in our daily travels since the conversion, it has (knock on wood) gone rather well.

While every car is going to be different, I hope this proves useful, and maybe provides a few options to someone out there who may have been in a similar situation.

It’s a girl….again!

IMG_8714[1]Late nights. Weary-eyed mornings.

It very well could sound a lot like my twenties, but yet it is something we’re doing all over again, yet completely new.

That’s right. Our third child has arrived and it’s a girl…again! That makes us the proud parents of a five year old boy, a two year old girl and a newborn girl. And of course, the original trio – our three cats.

We’re about two weeks out since she arrived to the world and into our arms, and while there’s definitely a transitional period as we adjust to life with a newborn once more, our son adjusts to another little sister, and our now oldest daughter adjusts to no longer being the baby, all feels right.

Sure, it may be tiring, but it all feels…right, even thinking about the wake ups in the middle of the night to a baby’s cries, or dragging out of bed the next morning. I think, knowing this is just a part of new life and knowing it will change before I know it, I’ve just become a bit more adaptable (or maybe appreciative) of things that I think earlier on as a parent may have led to complaints or worry. Though now most of my middle of the night/early morning worry is focused on making sure the other two don’t wake up when the baby cries!

Otherwise, it now just seems like part of a process when a new life is adjusting to the world. And it’s a process that passes like so much else, and who really wants to rush the sands of the time?

Enjoy all of it, even the tiring stuff. Because before too long, we become too tired to ever experience such joy like this again.

Welcome to the world, my beautiful, wonderful girl!

Six Halloween cartoons to watch with your kids…or by yourself this October

AutumnThe crinkle of leaves, the windy nights.

You can go ahead and enjoy all the pumpkin spice whatever you like. I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin other than decoratively.

For me, other than the aesthetics of a neighborhood or roadways lines with multi-colored leaves, the thing I look forward to the most this time of year is Halloween specials. I’m not a horror movie guy, so Jason, Freddy, the rest of you will have to sit this one out. The old, original Universal crew of Dracula, Frankenstein and friends? Okay, those I’ll get behind. And maybe one day I’ll talk about the wonder that is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Or how I have to watch Arsenic & Old Lace with Cary Grant at least once a season.

But beyond those, there’s something I really, really dig this time of year on the same level of those classics, and that’s watching family-friendly Halloween specials with the kids. I love it. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every year. Sometimes it’s a weekend, nighttime treat with a big bowl of popcorn for all of us and some apple cider to sip on. Or, it’s just a spur of the moment afternoon viewing because it’s Autumn and why not?

Either way, Fall and Halloween specials with the kids are my bag, and I wanted to pass along some of my personal favorites to recommend for anyone looking for some non-scary, but intensely entertaining treats for the eyes of your little ones, or even just you.

So, let’s hope into this leaf pile of nostalgia and spooks, shall we?

Silly Symphonies – The Skeleton Dance

skeleton-dance

The Skeleton Dance, a Walt Disney short from 1929, in all its black and white glory, is simply that – a group of skeletons that come out of the cemetery when the sun goes down and dance the night away, with macabre music made on their very own bones.

Mickey Mouse in Lonesome Ghosts

lonesome ghosts 37

Lonesome Ghosts is a 1937 Disney short featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as ghost hunters tricked into an old house by a group of mischievous ghosts looking for some entertainment. This one, in full-color, is another Disney classic.

If you possibly get iffy at times about the use of firearms in old cartoons, as I tend to be a bit wary of, know Mickey does bring a shotgun with him into the home. Standard for cartoons of the day, it’s good to know upfront should you want to put it into both a historical and safety context for any young ones, as I’ve tried to while we enjoy. Or, if unlike me, you don’t care about that sort of thing, then enjoy all on its own.

 

Donald Duck in Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat 1952

Capping off the Disney trio is my favorite of the three – Trick or Treat from 1952, featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie enlisting the help of a witch named Hazel (voiced by the late, great voiceover legend June Foray) for some Halloween comeuppance against their Uncle Donald, who proves to be the worst uncle in the world with the tricks he plays on the boys.

The opening and closing song of “Trick or Treat” will get stuck in your head, but it’s so much fun to sing, you won’t mind.

Halloween is Grinch Night

halloween-is-grinch-night.jpg

I’m always intrigued by the fact that the Grinch was one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular characters, but only appeared in that one published tale when he stole Christmas. Other than that, he’s been relegated to screen appearances, perhaps fueled by the adage about small doses. With its typical Seussian rhymes, it focuses on a young Who from Whoville who confronts the Grinch on Halloween/Grinch Night in an effort to stall him from making it to Whoville and scaring the entire population.

There’s familiar canine companion Max, and a lot of bizarre, surreal elements during the scare-sequence that might seem like something out of a Dali painting brought to life, but in the end, this sing-song tale of facing your fears is a fun Halloween romp that was actually written by Dr. Seuss himself! Minus Karloff this time around, Hans Conried, a familiar face to TV audiences in the 50s/60s and prolific voice-over actor, brings his refined diction to the titular Grinch.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

great pumpkin

Come on, does this one really need much of a write-up? This one has been a classic for decades.

Though no matter how many years go by, you can’t help but ask why this group of kids are so incredibly mean to poor Charlie Brown (and in this case, Linus, too).

Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to arrive on Halloween night, while the rest of the Peanuts gang go trick-or-treating in ghost costumes, where ol’ Chuck gets nothing but rocks. While yes, moments in it serve as a great reminder to not be so mean to people (what is your problem all the time, Lucy?!) the classic animation and characters still make it a fun tradition each and every year.

Curious George Halloween Boo Fest

curious george boofest

I refer to this as a contemporary classic and it’s quickly become one of my staples of the fall season.

Seriously. I will watch this whether kids are in the room or not. And it’s not just because the Man in the Yellow Hat is my spirit animal.

Taking place primarily at the Man’s country house (my favorite setting for the PBS Kids Curious George TV series, which alternates between their city apartment and the man’s family home in the country), George is intrigued by the neighborhood tales of No-Noggin, the scarecrow whose head disappeared years and years ago and now comes back at Halloween to kick off people’s hats and take them as his own.

Great songs, great characters, and just enough spooky Halloween atmosphere without being scary, this has become such a favorite of mine that when it recently came off of Netflix, I had to go out and buy a copy on DVD so we could have it.

So there’s your homework this season. To enjoy some fun viewings with your little ones or on your own that still stand the test of time in my opinion and are the perfect on-screen companion to the month of October.

Enjoy!

Grown-Up Bonus Viewing: Send the kids to bed and delight in all the kitsch of 1970s pop culture with the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, where Mr. Center Square himself guffaws his way through a haunted castle with Margaret “Wicked Witch of the West” Hamilton at his side and cameos by everyone from Betty White, to Florence Henderson, to KISS and H.R. Puffenstuff’s Witchiepoo.

Paul-Lynde Halloween

Car Seat Mania!!!

Car Seats 02So, in under a month we welcome our third child to our family and warn them of the impending insanity that they’ll be forced to tolerate for the rest of their little lives.

And while the occasion is certainly one for celebrating, it’s left our family with a particular dilemma – how to fit three young children in either of our cars.

My wife owns a 2009 Kia Sportage, and I, a 2011 Chevy Cruz. Both have gotten us by just fine, on our own and through parenthood with our first two. We use the one we call the ‘bucket loader’ (a Graco Click Connect) for our daughter, only putting her in and out versus lugging that bucket in and out with her soon to be two-year old self. Our son, now five is in an Evenflo (the exact model of which I can’t remember as I write this) in one car and a Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 in the other.

It’s all been well and good and served us very well through these past several years. But baby makes three and I’m not quite sure how we’re going to pull this off.

Car Seats 04This past weekend I disconnected and pulled each car seat out of both of our cars. I also assembled the Graco Turboboost booster seat we bought for our son, and spent the afternoon trying every conceivable combination of the various car seats, and found no way to fit three of them in either of our backseat.

We’ve visited many a website about the issue, we’ve solicited questions online from the general interwebs populace. And so far, we’re not having luck.

Yes, Helen. I’m very glad that you love the three booster seats you use for all three of your kids. But we’re talking about a newborn, a toddler, and a kindergartner, so that response, while bringing about much joy from me to you, does not help the question I posed.

And it’s wonderful, Karen, that your family loves the new SUV/Van/Car that you bought when you were having your third. I hope it serves you well. However, it doesn’t quite answer our question as to how in the world to make things work for our situation and the vehicles we have.

[All names have been changed to protect the innocent, of course.]

Car Seats 03Now my reactions may sound a bit snarky, and I say them in half-jest, but it’s because, truly, we’re in a pickle. We can’t use three booster seats across, as only one child is in the realm of possibly being eligible for a booster and that’s our oldest. And even using a booster in one slot does not allow for two other car seats in the space provided – at least not with the car seats we currently have.

And it’s easy to say “just get a new car,” and I wish we could. But we just can’t afford one right now. While we consider ourselves very fortunate for what we have, we don’t have enough money currently to go car shopping. Both our cars are paid off, which is one of the things that made it a lot easier for us to afford moving into a new home this past year. However, my undergraduate student loans, these 12+ years later, are still a shackle that I wear that holds back the entire family. I am currently paying double the amount on each of my student loans every month, and it equals out to roughly the same as our mortgage. Even at that overpaying rate, there is still 14-16 more months left before they are paid off completely and that money is freed up. To slow down and lessen those payments means prolonging that debt (and increasing it due to interest) and taking on even more debt with monthly car payments. So that part, really is not feasible.

As I say, we’re very grateful for what we have in our lives. That said, we try very hard to budget each dollar we have, because it all has to go someplace every month. We don’t use credit cards. We don’t do much extracurricular unless it’s something affordable or free. So we don’t tend to go willy-nilly with money. It’s just all allocated somewhere.

Car Seats 05So the best theory we can come up with for the time being is the short-term, one time pain of shelling out money to buy some new car seats that will work in combination with the booster to fit all three kids in our cars versus the long-term commitment of money to monthly car payments.

But what seats to use? That has been the biggest and toughest challenge.

We’ve been at this for far longer than now, but now it feels like the clock is ticking faster as we move more and more toward our new arrival. Any seat suggestions are appreciated if anyone’s been in a similar boat with similar-sized cars.

Because right now the only thing I’m driving is the crazy train.


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