Category Archives: Kids

Playing The Guilt Game


Pretty much right from their first breath, children are experimenting with different ways to get us to do what they want.  Different timbres and pitch rejected or filed away for further use based on the effectiveness of each individual scream and cry.  Later on it becomes tantrums and hissy fits, the more public the better. Incessant, ear bleeding, aneurysm inducing whining. Two of my daughter’s preferred techniques were either to simply continue asking over and over until all will to resist was ground down and washed away or to use some variation of “pretty please” followed by a combination of various treats to go “on top.”

Amateur inveiglements now set aside for the most effective form of psychological manipulation that one person can inflict upon another – the  guilt trip.

When she started kindergarten, I talked about what that was going to mean for our time together.  I don’t get home from work until after bed time most nights of the week, so there are several days when the morning routine is our only time together.  I talked about the teenager’s sharp words about time spent with her and how deeply they cut.  I talked about my guilt.

Attempts to maximize this time that we do have together have led to a pretty full schedule of fun whenever I’m not working.  Wednesday afternoons at the park, wings and movies with the teen, roller skating just about every weekend.  It’s also led to expectations that I can’t always meet and opportunities for the little to try out her new means of persuasion.

She has less than adequate comprehension about things like money and bone weary exhaustion on a Sunday morning.  What she knows is that she wants to do something, that there will be several days past before I’m able to bring her someplace again, and that by reminding me of this, there’s a pretty good chance that we are going to go.


the power of guilt
trying to look sweet and innocent


So where did she learn such Machiavellian machinations?  How to harness the power of guilt for her own purposes?

The same way that all children do eventually.  They learn it from us. It’s the basis for almost all behavioral modification, whether consciously or not.  When a child does something good we shower them with words of praise and approval.  When they are bad we take away that approval and show disappointment.  Punishments and the learning of consequence of action are part of the process, but I’m starting to believe that when a child chooses not to repeat an act that they had previously been punished or reprimanded for, avoidance of that feeling of guilt, of having that approval taken away from them based on their actions, is just as much a reason for the change in behavior as any other.


This morning I woke up in a pretty foul mood.  I didn’t feel well, my back hurt, and it was too damned early for any reasonable person to be awake.  My daughter naturally decided that this meant it was the perfect day to practice jumping from one section of the couch to the other, over and over, and blatantly ignore my increasingly loud demands for her to stop.

I soon snapped and she immediately fled up the stairs in tears, scared by an outburst that was uncharacteristically incensed.  I stayed downstairs, morosely clinging to my moral superiority until she returned, head hung low, and promised to behave if it meant we could spend some more time together before I left for the day.

Some time playing something a little more fun than the game of guilt tag that I think that she had already won.


Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Frozen Stones


I’m pretty sure that as a kid I must have liked the snow. I’m old enough to remember digging tunnels after the blizzard of ’78, enjoyed jetting around the yard on the back of my father’s snowmobile, and surely must have built at least a few snowmans that have since melted from memory. We had some good times with a tube, a tractor and a cornfield as teenagers, but I also fell off a ski lift and still have scars on my face from a horrific sledding disaster. Myself and Southern Comfort are more to blame for this disfigurement than the snow, but it’s not completely without blame.

As an adult I have no use for it whatsoever.  It’s cold, wet, and hurts my back to shovel.  It interrupts my satellite television, causes power outages, and sucks to drive in.  Ten years ago my wife-to-be and I joined some co-workers on a snowmobiling weekend and came home both physically and emotionally battered.  Every vacation since has been to a southern  destination.

My five year old and the puppy are too young to know better. They both love this late season storm that has once again turned my yard into a frozen playground for them to frolic in, oblivious to the wind, the sub arctic temperatures and the White Walkers that lurk beyond the treeline.



They also don’t listen very well.  Like all kids, within the first fifteen minutes of being outside Alaina will have:

1.  Made a snow angel, causing snow to somehow get between her skin and the multiple layers of clothing she has on.

2.  Eaten snow, hopefully from nowhere near the dog’s preferred bathroom area.

3.  Tried to throw a snowball at me, usually from a distance of less than two feet and missing by three.

4.  Either taken her hat off and thrown snow into the air directly above her head or removed her gloves and placed her hands directly into the nearest snowbank.

5.  Had to pee.


when it snows


I just stand here and smile through chattering teeth. I applaud every “cool trick” that I’m told to watch, dodge the occasional ice ball that actually has a chance of connecting with my face and daydream about the spring that I know will eventually arrive.  I yell at her to put her hat back on, yell at him to stop eating deer poop and yell at some stupid groundhog in Pennsylvania that predicted this mess.


when it snows


I think about how much more fun life is at five years old and I wonder if it’s actually possible for someone to freeze their stones off.  I fear that I may find out because neither one seems ready to go back inside anytime soon.



A Parent’s Very First Job


Having a child means an endless list of responsibilities.  Little beings reliant on us for food, clothing, shelter and tons of other things over the course of their lives.  Its not only a never ending job, but one that starts before we even take them home.

They need a name, a means to be referred to by the world. Something for you to sing as you rock them to sleep, whisper as you ask your God to watch over them, yell one hundred times a day as they grow older.  A name is also how they will refer to themselves, the first step towards self actualization and development of sense of identity.

A name is often the first thing that is known about a person, a first impression that can convey race, gender or heritage, with all the institutional judgments and prejudices that knowledge brings.  It provides insight into the person’s parents, thus giving a potential glimpse into how a child was raised. It’s a person’s calling card, something they will carry throughout all phases of their life.

If it’s so important, the first great test of parenthood, how do so many people screw it up?  A need to reject conformity and cultivate our children’s individuality and uniqueness that instead leaves them saddled with a horrendous moniker for the rest of their lives, cursing their clever parents every time they correct somebody’s pronunciation or ask to be referred to by their middle or nicknames.

I work at a hospital and am presented with dozens of different names daily.  As much as it contradicts my tenet against judging others, I’m finding more and more of these names absolutely ridiculous, sometimes downright nonsensical.  I won’t use any examples in an attempt to not alienate any potential readers, but if the pronunciation of your child’s name is phonetically antithesis to the organization of letters used in it’s visual form, I may be talking about you.  I haven’t been able to independently verify this information, so there is the possibility I am propagating fake news, but I have heard tell of children now being named Hijkmnop, pronounced Noel. If you don’t get it at first, neither did I.  Noel – no L.

It’s a difficult task, and one my wife and I didn’t take lightly.  My first choice of girl’s name was Kahlan, pronounced the same as her preferred boy name, Colin.  Her second choice of boy name was Luke, ironic because my first offering was Skywalker. Upon learning that we would be having a girl we settled on Alaina, my second choice, with a middle name of Shay, her first. Had we a male offspring, there is therefore a very real chance that he would be named Luke Skywalker Barnes, a difficult legacy to live up to. Whether he or society would have ever appreciated this awesomeness is now rendered rhetorical debate, but is a good reminder of why I try not to judge.





Battling Over Britches


Like any child, both kids have had their share of “boundary exploration” moments, those times when they decide that they are due to start asserting some independence, making a few more of their own decisions, regardless of how contrary these decisions may be to our wishes.  Unfortunately, what they perceive as self-assertion we often see as a kid that just doesn’t seem to want to do what they are damned told.  “Getting too big for your britches” is a phrase that I remember hearing a lot as a child.

It can be a tricky balance to find.  The difference between encouraging autonomy and letting them do whatever the hell they want often a small one.  Giving choices about things such as side dishes for dinner or breakfast foods, but being firm about keeping those choices within the predetermined parameters. Telling the teen that she doesn’t need to wash her clothes that particular day, but making it clear that within the next few is expected.  I don’t want our children viewing us as authoritarian dictators, but do need them to remember who the bosses are around here.


King of My Domain


With the five year old, most of these battles revolve around clothing. On just about every other issue, it doesn’t take much more than a stern look and a switch over to “dad voice” (very similar to Christian Bale’s Batman voice) to end any argument that she finds herself bold enough to start, but for some reason the outfits that she wears is a constant source of contention.

Some of these fashion choices are actually shocking in their visual unpleasantness, an insult to the eye.  More often they are seasonally inappropriate or seemingly chosen out of some sort of twisted humor sensibility.  When told that a ruffled short sleeve shirt and skirt combination wouldn’t be allowed on a recent trip to the grocery, her idea of changing into something warmer was to stuff the entire ensemble into last year’s snow pants.


her idea of winter clothing


Some of her worst offenses are mismatching universes.  Every gym day she wears her Spider Man sneakers and I’m forced to again explain why a Marvel character shirt, Avengers or Black Widow, is OK, but DC heroes such as Superman or Batman are not.  I’d sooner send her out into the world bare ass as have a child of mine seen wearing a Star Wars T-shirt with a Star Trek sweatshirt.


I’m forced to choose my battles, my criteria often based on where we are going and how concerned I am about being judged by strangers.  It’s a struggle between my need to fight stereotyping, the idea that “dad must have dressed her” and my more natural tendency to not give a rat’s ass what anybody else thinks.

We’ve come to a bit of a compromise.  I have final say over her school clothes, so far avoiding any calls home with recommendations for eye exams,  on weekends we venture out looking like circus performers on furlough or straight out of the commune.


Battle over britches
could be worse…





A New Appreciation For Video Gaming


It had been a while, ten days to be precise.  Looking forward it would be another six until it happened again.  A rare occurrence lately,  yesterday I found myself presented with four full hours with nobody else in the house but me, a dog, and a bunny rabbit.

There was a lot that I should have done, things either easier or only possible without distraction.  Pretty much anything that would involve reading, writing, or thinking actually.  Instead I spent the entire time playing Shadow of Mordor on the Playstation.  For those that are familiar with these sorts of things, it’s a game best described as Assassin’s Creed set in the Lord of The Rings universe.  For those that aren’t, it’s basically a forty two year old man pretending to sneak around and stab orcs.


Gamer Kid


I’m far from what anybody would describe as a hard core gamer.  I played Donkey Kong on our ColecoVision in the early 80’s, upgraded to a Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers a few years later, and spent my share of quarters playing Contra and Gauntlet at Gardner’s Lake and the Norwichtown Mall, but was never really any good at them. My buddies had epic, high stakes R.B.I. Baseball tournaments in the early 90’s but I sat most of those out, wisely calculating my odds at winning $20.00 buy in games of Risk or Monopoly to be higher.


One of the disadvantages of being proactive with Christmas shopping is the inevitability of a late addition to the list of things that they really, really, want.  Almost exactly twenty four hours after declaring myself completely done and vowing not to buy anything else, my daughter decided that the only thing that she cared about receiving this year was a “zombie video game”, making sure that Santa was made aware of this during our yearly visit.

She has a few puzzle and racing apps on her tablet, but to my knowledge has never seen myself or anybody else actually playing a real video game, so I assumed that whatever expectations she had would be fairly easy to meet.  Finding anything remotely zombie oriented and also age appropriate for a five year old proved a small challenge, but eventually I stumbled across Scooby-Doo : First Frights, dusted off the basement Wii and bought what has so far proven to be her favorite present of the year.


gamer girl


There is some cartoonish violence, but nothing worse than on a typical Scooby Doo cartoon episode.  As with the television and her tablet, her time playing will be monitored and limited.

To be more precise, her time playing will be limited to when I am controlling Shaggy.  Not because I’m concerned about over-aggressiveness, desensitization to violence or any of the other problems that studies claim to have linked to gaming, but because I want to see how the mystery that we are currently working on ends.

Gaming also has been been shown to increase hand – eye coordination, speed of decision making and the ability to multi-task, but most importantly it’s something else for us to do together this winter.  We argue over who gets the most Scooby Snacks, she can’t seem to hit the jump button without physically jumping, and whenever we do have to fight something she spends more time hitting my guy with her sausage links than the enemy, but this might be my favorite Christmas present in a long time also.


new gamer girl