The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Education

pinkalicious 5 minute storiesOur two and a half year old daughter has a book she adores called 5-Minute Pinkalicious Stories, filled with 12 different stories featuring her favorite animated counterpart, Pinkalicious. It was found in her Easter basket, a gift from that hippity hoppity Easter Bunny, and has become a staple of almost every evening storytime.

Twelve stories and adventures in imagination to choose from. Yet, of those twelve, we’ve probably read three. And of those three, two have been read only once. Instead, we’ve read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” several nights a week for the past two months. At times I feel like I could recite it in my sleep and tell you all about Pinkalicious getting chosen to be Principal for the Day before getting sick, or Principal Hart getting sick, or having pink tea with mommy while home from school. For a while I had tried to encourage, perhaps, any of the other stories inside the book collection as I grew slightly weary of this same tale over and over again, or our 5 ½ year old son growing impatient with the same story and losing focus, moving about the room with attention anywhere but the story he’s sat through as well for so many times.

I just couldn’t understand why we were doing this again, and again, and again, but I obliged and we read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” night after night upon her request. Then one night, I got it. It took some pointing out from Meg, but I got it.

One night, within the past week or two, our daughter insisted that she wanted to read the story to us. “Okay…” we said, agreeing but unsure of what we were in for, handing the book over to her excited little hands. “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day!” she happily shouted and then….began telling us the story. No, she wasn’t reading it, but she was telling it, following along on each page and illustration, giving us an abbreviated, but still accurate story, with complete sentences taken right off the page as had been read to her.

kid reading on couchShe was retaining, she was remembering, and she was comprehending it.

That was the power of repetition on her young mind.

A study out of the University of Sussex has shown not only the vocabulary benefits of children hearing the same stories over and over, but that they actually may receive more benefit from fewer stories on repeat than newer stories all the time.

“…each time a child hears the book they are picking up new information,” says Psychologist Dr Jessica Horst who led the study. “The first time it might just be the story, the second time they are noticing details of description, and so on. If the new word is introduced in a variety of contexts –  as happened with those who were read three different stories – children are less likely to focus on the new word.”

So, the next time she wants to hear about Pinkalicious’ Sick Day for the 79th time, or once again “read it” to us, I’m all ears, because I know she is too.

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Made a stop at the post office this week and I’m hoping the bank and the water company appreciate the friendly face along with their check.


crayons-coloring-schoolAn open letter to our son…

Tomorrow, you start kindergarten.

The mornings of pure play have passed, and the lessons of preschool now behind us, you set forth on an amazing and new adventure.

I’ll never forget that time driving in the car, back from vacation, when mommy was pregnant with your sister, that you sang twinkle, twinkle little star in the backseat. It wasn’t surprising. We sang it a lot back then. But when we heard you say “how I wonder what you are” instead of the “how me wonder what you are” that we had heard those first two and a half years of your life, mommy and I looked at each other, realizing that change is inevitable. You were growing as you’re destined to do. At some point mama became mommy and dada became daddy. Letters became sounds and words.

You may not realize it as it happens, and there may be times when it feels as though you’re in school “forever,” but a day will come when you look back and smile at what are the most fun-filled, exploratory, and intriguing adventures of your life. Full days. Lunches in the cafeteria. Days on the playground. New friends, and new lessons to be had. It all awaits you as you step off the curb and into this brand new world tomorrow.

You know your ABCs. You can count past 100. You love to sing, to dance, to draw, to create, to fathom worlds of wonder that amaze me more each day, and teach me more about animals and space exploration than I ever learned back in school.

I hope you’ll always enjoy The Beatles and The Monkees as much as you do today, without fear of what’s not current, of what many around you may like or dislike – that the things you love, though they may change over time, are still rooted and attached to the giant heart that beats beneath your chest.

drawing heartPlease remember that not everyone has to like you, agree with you, and that’s okay. Don’t let optimism, the hope, and the bright light that pours out of you ever be dimmed by those who wish to tear others down. Fill the buckets of those around you, but never at the expense of someone else’s, or your own. Just be you. You’re great at it.

As I walk back to my car, I will smile, I will wave, but inside I’ll be juggling the anxiety of knowing we are “letting you go,” off to the next chapter of your life with the hope and confidence (and touch of anxiety, because it comes naturally) that we have given you what you need up to this point to stand tall, to stay strong, to never stop learning, to be kind, and to just be your unique self, no matter what or who you may encounter along the way.

Know that you are loved. That no matter where your path takes you, you will be loved, with all our hearts. Above all else, at this start of your journey and hereon in, please, if there’s one thing to remember, it’s to always be true to yourself. That is the greatest gift you can give to this world, and to yourself.

Just be you.

Love,

Daddy and Mommy


library-shelvesRepository of knowledge. Information Center. Bibliotecha. Whatever you call it, libraries are the bomb.

Do kids still say the bomb?

I absolutely love libraries and these days I’ve rekindled that romance after a shifting mindset with an emphasis on simplicity and purging. This summer, Meg and I made it a goal to sort through the numerous boxes in our basement and closets that have sat there since we moved, and some well before that sat dormant in the basement of our previous house. And while the amount of ‘stuff’ varied, one thing that we certainly had a lot of, was books. Books we’ve read, many books we hadn’t, books we’re likely to never, ever read that just looked nice on a bookshelf. But of those books we had read, they were rarely, if ever going to be read again.

First LIbrary Card Rev1And so this growing fire of simplification was inspiration to start using the public library system more for things that were only going to get one use. The best part of all – we brought the kids with us.

On our son’s fifth birthday, Meg took him to our local library where he excitedly signed up for his first library card and walked away with an armful of books to sift through at home (yes, even though mommy told him to limit it to three). The next week or so were filled with great new stories at bedtime and any random time. And the best part – when we were all done, we brought them back.

No finding shelf space or storage space, no added clutter around the house.

And the selection! So much to choose from, right at your fingertips! Whether some Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the kids, or a non-fiction or novel for mom and dad (or graphic novel, even!), we get to enjoy the pleasure of reading, enjoying, then returning and it’s wonderful.

Yes, at times it can be a bit of a struggle to pull the kids away from the fun of toys in the play area, or the cool games on computers or tablets set up for public use. But it’s just part of what the library has to offer folks and I can’t encourage patronizing your local library enough.

library booksLibraries are books, they are knowledge, they are information for the masses versus only those who can afford it. It is access to technology to complete homework, to apply for a job, or conduct important research. They’re more than stacks. They’re a community center.

I know. I know. This post reads as if I only just discovered the library.

On the contrary. I worked in a public library for a bit of time when I was in college and my wife is a school librarian. And we’ve both been visiting our local libraries since we were little, but I think in this modern, internet-commerce world, it becomes easy to hop online and drop a few bucks (or a lot of bucks) for a book we have a sudden urge to read, but might never read again.

Are we done with bookstores and online ordering? Gosh, no. But we’re just becoming pickier about what we want to have eating up space, about what we’re buying that we don’t need to. And visiting our local libraries has certainly helped.

Yes. I’m excited to talk about my love of the library because let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a place where anyone can go, find information on almost anything, or entertaining reading on almost anything, catch up on the newspaper, use resources we may not be able to afford on our own, and all for free, provided we return it or use it in certain parameters.

To me, that’s simply amazing.


Mr Rogers 1980sDid you watch PBS when you were a kid?

I did. I certainly can’t remember all of my viewing habits, but I can tell you unequivocally how comfortable, safe, and accepting it felt even as a toddler to be joined by furry friends on Sesame Street every afternoon. Or how I would run to grab my sneakers to tie and sweater to zip up when Mister Rogers would come walking through his door to open up windows to the world around us and remind us what it mean to be a kind, caring person throughout this thing called life.

I remember when Big Bird and I both needed clarity about Mr Hooper not being on Sesame Street anymore and how it’s okay to feel sad about someone leaving our lives, that grieving is a natural part of our emotions when someone dies. To this day I can’t see that scene where the grown-ups tell Big Bird that Mr Hooper isn’t coming back without feeling the same thing I did all those years ago. The handling of the topic, from producers to writers, to cast and crew, remains incredible.

sesame - mr hooper

Goodbye, Mr Hooper.

Beyond those shows, I can’t recall too much else that I watched. Maybe Romper Room, and when I was older a show called Square One, mostly because of a series within the series called Mathnet, a Dragnet spoof where math problems were used to solve mysteries.

And now 30+ years later, I can say with certainty that there’s never been a better time to be a PBS parent.

We still get new editions of classics like Sesame Street, going strong at almost 50 years old and still teaching not only basic skills like shapes, numbers, and letters that prepare a child for school, but lessons to hold onto our entire lives, such as kindness, acceptance, and staying true to yourself. And my wife can attest to the childlike glee I get when we see familiar faces like Bob or Gordon pop into even some of the newer episodes.

daniel tiger shoesLikewise, the values, compassion, and wisdom of Fred Rogers live on in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as the residents of the Neighborhood of Make Believe, previously known in puppet form on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, spring to life in full-color animation. From sharing, to helping, to dealing with feelings like sadness, jealousy or anger, the lessons of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are essential not just to a child, but to all of us. Our daughter is only starting to speak, but one thing she’s almost guaranteed to utter is the musical tones that accompany the songs in Daniel Tiger when it’s on.

Of course, there’s so much new and exciting on PBS too. While my son enjoys the derring-do and superheroics, I laugh at all the hilarious situations and jokes as WordGirl tries to put villains, bad grammar and misused words to rest.

ready jet goReady, Jet, Go has not only kindled a fascination with space exploration in our son, but it has captured the attention and awe of our not quite two year old daughter as well. And, I for one, feel I’ve learned so much as an adult about our universe and the vast possibilities that await us beyond the stars thanks to Jet, his parents and friends, and Astronomer and Host Amy Mainzer.

Nature Cat revels in its silliness while showcasing how much fun can be had and how much can be learned simply by heading out to one’s own backyard, along with a little help from our imagination. It also features, I’m convinced, at least half of the cast of SNL.

Wild KrattsChris and Martin Kratt leap from live action exploration of the animal kingdom into an animated world that stresses the valuable balance of our ecosystem and the role that each animal plays within it. Along with that, of course, comes with the threats to that delicate ecosystem by human kind and those who wish to prey upon the animal and natural world for their own greedy gain. The Kratt Brothers have not only transformed our son into a walking animal encyclopedia of habits and interaction, but have made him aware at such a young age to think about his actions or the actions of others, affect the world around us.

odd-squad-full-castAnd of course, there’s my favorite, Odd Squad, which I’ve gushed over many a time before, about an agency run by kids that uses math skills to solve problems of oddness in the world. If it’s a man with a fireplace in his stomach, a person with a laugh track following them around, or dog-obsessed villain looking to take over the world, Odd Squad is on the case. With it’s clever writing, excellent acting, and delicious sense of humor, any adult should be watching this show, regardless if there’s a kid in the room with them.

Then, there’s PBS Kids Family Night, which, in our household at least, has become the modern day equivalent of The Wonderful World of Disney that my wife and I enjoyed watching each week as kids. Family-friendly specials, movies, or marathons every Friday night (and rerun Saturday and Sunday night if you miss it) on the 24/7 PBS Kids Channel that have become ritual viewing for us. I pull out the air popper I bought almost 15 years ago, make a bowl of popcorn and we all gather in the living room for anything from Tiger Family Trip to Odd Squad the Movie, or Wild Kratts: Hero’s Journey. Our kids are already chomping at the bit to see the upcoming Ready Jet Go: Return to Bortron 7 coming up on a Family Night edition soon.

We have basic cable, and when we downsized (long before we had kids), we never looked back, finding all we needed in our television viewing right there on that handful of stations. And when we did have kids, PBS (and now PBS Kids, their 24/7 accompanying channel) became the default for children’s programming.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PBS matters. It offers a gateway to the world for anyone with a television set. No premium channels and the associated pay along with it. Whether it’s arts and culture, or math, science, and reading – knowledge never goes out of style. It’s what allows us to understand one another, to find new ways to think, to move our world forward. And I can’t think of a greater way to use the power of broadcasting than to by empowering our children and future generations with the tools to keep our world, our society, ever moving.


Prek Grad 01Like a breeze it arrived, swift and sweeping (in emotion).

It seemed like only a few weeks ago I was dropping out little guy off for his first-ever day of pre-k and yet, inexplicably, ten months passed in the blink of an eye and there we were, sitting in the seats as he and his classmates, received a certificate that said they were kindergarten-bound.

I was a barrel of mixed emotions. Proud of the little guy who sat before the crowd, coming into a classroom where he knew not a single adult or child last fall, with no anxiety, no fear, only enthusiasm to make friends, explore, and learn. In fact, the only anxiety I can recall from him was not about going to school, but about when having to leave when it was time to come home. Our first few months were a bit painful at pick-up time, as he was enjoying everything far too much and didn’t want to leave it behind for the day. I only hope he maintains that enthusiasm for learning as the years go on.

But back to the present.

Against a backdrop of superhero-themed backgrounds, the little guy and his classmates, dressed in custom-decorated capes and masks, performed some songs, some dance, and eventually were told they were walking off the stage, out of preschool and onward to kindergarten and elementary school.

It was bittersweet, not just for us adults, realizing how swiftly the sands of time pass for us all, but for him too. A week later it’s finally dawned on him that he’s not going back to school on a regular basis and with tear in his eyes he tells us how much he misses it, and his friends.

IMG_4664Added to that, his young world and expectations were thrown for a loop when we told him the weekend following his moving-up ceremony that he would be attending a different school than the one we were planning, the one he had attended multiple orientation nights for, where several of his friends from Pre-k were headed.

You see, the plan all along had been for him to head to work with mommy in the fall at the elementary school she’s been working at this past year. However, about a week or so before his Pre-k ended, my wife’s superintendent informed her they were moving her to an area high school. It meant no school with mommy as planned, and we could either continue to send him there, or send him to the school just minutes from our house.

Sometimes kids take such changes in stride with an admirable adaptability, and other times it’s a slow simmer of sadness as we work our way through the changes to our lives and days. In this case, it seem it’s currently the slow simmer of emotion and change that we’ll have to work through.

And I’m confident we will, but I don’t kid myself that it will take time. Heck, we moved to our new house seven months ago and we still have to have periodic conversations about change not always being bad and to look for the good when a teary eyed, head hanging low little boy starts to bring up why he misses his old house.

hallway at schoolSo change is not always the adaptable, easygoing “get over it” that so many folks think is a default for all kids. It will take time. Time, time, time. You are a tricky thing. Filled with good, filled with bad, but most of all, filled with change that keeps our worlds from ever getting boring, and teaching us to learn as we go and figure out how to change with you (even if it takes some of us a little longer to accept) at the risk of being left behind.

Change is the only constant, and I’m constantly astounded by just how quickly it all comes. From the hospital nursery to running through the yard, to Pre-k and now across the stage, cape billowing as a young super hero sets out, up, up and away toward the the next chapter of childhood.

He’s growing up.


This past week, my wife and I sat in the doctor’s office, staring at a black and white image on the screen. The grainy images of an arm, a foot, and eventually a profile of a head filled us with smiles inside and out as we finally put a somewhat-face to the growing little person that will be joining the ranks of our growing family. It was an odd moment. One might think it might feel routine at this point. This’ll be our third child, after all. We’ve been through this all before.

But, this time, staring at that screen, we felt…connected. To the baby, to each other, to the moment right then and there.

It’s something that, perhaps, we didn’t allow ourselves with our first two children. It’s not meant with any disrespect or disregard for either our son or daughter. It’s just that we now realize how much of their pre-arrivals were spent worrying so much about the future, planning what was to come, what had to be done, how would we handle things, that we failed to be in the moment, living in the present as we should have been and would have liked to be.

Sitting in the waiting room between sonogram and the appointment with the doctor, we were both on our phones, taking pictures of the sonogram and sending it to family members.

smart-phoneIn the course of any given day, I check my smart phone device constantly, scrolling through Twitter and thinking if I have anything funny to say, checking email to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about the house we’re selling or one of the myriad of book queries I’ve put out there, checking in with the virtual beings whose lives I lord over in Sims Freeplay, or checking my Google Keep app for the numerous to-do lists it allows me to make, organize, add to, and check off as I complete things in the never-ending, always growing list of tasks for work, home, creative pursuits, etc. It’s constantly ongoing, and I keep it that way. I constantly think of things that need to get done and add it to the list. Or I check to see what i can cross off. Some are more pressing than others. Others aren’t necessary at all. But I check obsessively regardless. It’s as fruitless as trying to keep up with email.

“Looked at in terms of flowing and static information, the email inbox is one, big, unfinishable loop,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. “It is not a book or document that can be successfully completed. It is a flow. Sure, we can mark or move emails that are important, create priorities and sorting routines. But the initial choice to have email at all is to open a loop.”

I put off taking risks, following pursuits or making changes in life because I’m constantly waiting until something else is done. (I.e. In a year I should have my master’s done, so I’ll wait to search out other jobs until that’s done; I have 24 more payments left on both my student loans, which is two years, so if I can just hold off until that’s paid off in that time, THEN I’ll give dream/risk/pursuit xyz a try.) Always looking ahead, planning, sometimes to the point of excuses, rather than living in the present.

I think of not too long ago, the guilt I felt when my son asked me to play and I was too busy looking at something unimportant on my phone that I told him I couldn’t at the moment, only to find a few minutes later that he had moved on, leaving the lyrics of “Cats in the Cradle” running through my head and a desire to try and not allow myself to follow down that path due to such easy distractions.

As we talked later that morning, holding pictures of our soon to be third child, my wife and I both acknowledged how rare it is to feel like that, to truly feel present like we did in that room.

We’re not alone.

Even as I wrote this blog post, I found my hand casually moving over to the mouse and bringing up tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and before I knew it, sucked down the rabbit hole of online interaction. Though I wasn’t interacting. I was just scrolling. Scrolling through like a mindless motor function without any true purpose. Was there anything pressing I needed? Was there information I had to have that very moment that I took myself away from the focus of writing – something that I struggle to re-focus on and get back to once I’ve been pulled away. No. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I had nothing to say. I’ve just in many ways become conditioned to get distracted. It’s something I admit I desperately want to stop doing.

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday,” Rushkoff says. “The value was in the now – which at this point is really just a then.”

I have come to feel that I often spend so much time worrying about and trying to plan for the future and various ways in which it may occur, that I’m rarely ever actually living in the present anymore. The moments pass with no appreciation as I’m constantly looking for how to take care of what comes next, or what will or could come next.

It’s not surprising that it’s a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety, and causes me to spend way too much time on my devices that I could be spending living in the moment with my friends and family. It’s why the founders of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or various apps that eat up all our time, are as successful as they are. It may not be a sinister intention, but it takes aim at our internal longing to escape but feel a part of something bigger, a community, or simply to be more relevant, and exploits it for gain.

Meanwhile, so many of us are ever living outside of our lives and constantly chasing digital nostalgia (remember, nostalgia doesn’t always refer to the past. It’s a combination of Latin words meaning “longing for home.” And home can mean comfort.)

“Another definition of unhealthy escapism—escapism gone too far—is the effects it has on the essential fabric of living,” psychologist Andrew Evans writes in This Virtual Life, as noted by the February 2015 article in The Atlantic titled The Good and The Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality. “The individual in the context of family, friends, and social commitments.”

Evans connects his definition, the article states, to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranking love and a sense of belonging just after basic physiological and safety needs.

bird feederThen I think of the calm, the peace, the feeling of being in the now, in the present that I felt looking at the baby’s form on that monitor. It may sound silly, but it was almost akin to the feeling of being present I experience when I’m sitting alone looking at nature, whether it’s a walk through a nature trail and admiring the plants and trees, or sitting quietly in our backyard, sans digital devices, getting lost in the greenery, trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and wildlife going about their day.

In Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, the author suggests using natural systems to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual life of humans.

“Whereas technology immersion results in walls that become screens, and machines that enter our bodies, more nature in our lives offers us homes and workplaces and natural communities that produce human energy…[and] products and environments that make life more comfortable for people.”

Clinical Psychologist, Consultant, and Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, in her book The Big Disconnect, notes that our reliance on technology can often be an attempt to fill voids that we’re not getting from the physical world around us.

“Simply put, we are more sociable when we are connected to nature, and without nature we manifest antisocial behavior more regularly and rely on technological substitutes more.”

In a March 2011 TEDx Talk, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses the ways in which technology connects us, yet disconnects from the people and physically around us.

“Children talk about that moment of coming out of school, looking for eye contact and instead of that moment with a parent, that parent is looking at the smart phone,” Turkle says.

A generation has grown up with technology as the competition for their parents time and attention and now that generation is older and has their own turn to live in the culture of distraction.

Turkle had been present when computers were first being implemented into home use and recalls when designers/programmers were having trouble finding ideas to keep the computer busy (calendars, contact list, etc, were some early ideas for home use). As she says, it didn’t matter in the end, because now they are what keeps us busy.

“What I didn’t see coming…and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices, always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able to basically bail out of the physically real at any time,” she says. “To go to the other spaces we have available to us and that we would want to.”

She refers to this departure from multi-tasking as multi-lifing, and that escapism, that distraction, that other life that technology offers us is seductive, hitting us in some of the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is, she surmises, what has led so much of our culture to become one that would rather text or send an email than pick up the phone and talk. The technology has allowed us to dial down our own human contact.

As these bits of our humanity are chipped away, it will become even more crucial to find a way, amid a world where this technology is not going away, to revisit, revive, and instill our own humanity into future generations, for fear that they could lose it completely.

“If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will always be lonely.”

Like many addictions, it becomes a vicious cycle. We escape to online, we become distracted from the physical world around us, and as we cut out the real world, we more and more seek out the illusion of friendship and community without the companionship in the digital world of technology. It feeds our loneliness which just keeps us perpetually alone. But we continue to seek it out, and the media texts that it provides, out of this sense of longing for comfort, and media companies will continue to exploit with the latest social platforms, digital shows, films, apps, or games as long as we keep needing a digital place to seek out and fulfill that need of nostalgia, of longing.

 



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