Because I Said So

Some of the best times of my life happened in the summers of 1990 and 1991. I had my own car, a great group of friends, and multiple jobs keeping me fueled up with gasoline and beer. Days were spent in pursuit of coin, (relatively successful) nights in pursuit of tail (much less successfully).

Every now and again my parents would step in to apply the breaks, telling me that I needed to spend some time at home “cooling my jets.” It was hard to understand why. I was having fun, using my own money, and staying out of trouble. ( Not getting caught). Why were they trying to spoil it for me?

It was also hard for them to explain. To their credit neither ever used the words “because I said so”, but that was the general idea.

I find myself in similar situations often now, with both children. There are so many things that I don’t want them doing, but am unable to articulate good reasons why.

As I’ve mentioned before , the little one very rarely lets me know when she is awake anymore. She changes her clothes and sneaks downstairs to grab mommy’s I-Pad, knowing that her time on it is limited. I get up soon after, make a coffee and spend about an hour on the computer. I catch up with my Facebook and Twitter accounts, answer comments on the blog, and try to read and comment on as many other blogs as I can.  When I’m done, she’s done. I could easily spend much more time doing this, but I don’t want her on the tablet any longer than that, and my list of things that I should be doing instead isn’t going to get any shorter on its own.

Alaina has no such responsibilities and doesn’t understand why I’m taking it away from her. The next thing she is going to do is watch cartoons and eat breakfast while I shower. Is that really any better than playing on the I Pad? She finds my answer of “I don’t want you turning into a zombie” about as satisfactory as the teenager does when she is made to put down her phone.

 

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She also doesn’t understand why her morning snack has to be fruit but if she eats a good lunch she can have a few chips or a small bowl of ice cream. Why can’t she have Doritos now if she promises to eat strawberries later? Well, because its 10:00 in the morning.  We don’t eat chips in the morning. No, they won’t be any healthier later, but if society says that I have to wait two more hours to have a beer, you have to wait for your chips.

Kayla has nothing to do all summer, but we still make her get out of bed by 10:00. They are just words but she’s not allowed to swear or listen to overly profane music. We make Alaina wear clothes all day, even if she doesn’t want to, and both kids are forced to change their underwear daily. Neither is allowed to pick their nose.

How many of our parenting decisions are made simply because it seems like that is what we are supposed to be doing and saying? How hard is it to not resort to “because I said so” when confronted with this?

The teenager has spent the last four nights out with the new boyfriend. When I tell her tomorrow that she needs to spend the day at home, she’s not going to understand why, and I’m not really going to have a good answer for her. It just seems like it’s time for her to take a break and “cool her jets.”

 

 

Hiking to Mordor

I recently saw an article come across my Facebook feed credited to a site called “Roadsnacks” that claimed to have used “scientific analysis” to rank the ten worst places to live in Connecticut.  To my surprise I saw that the town I now live in was number five on the list, the town directly south of me was number seven, and the next two to my north were numbers three and ten.  I’ve recently done some complaining about the school system and I knew that the crime and unemployment numbers were higher than the state average per capita, but this still seemed a pretty harsh inditement of my quiet little corner of the state.  I don’t live in Mayberry by any means, but there are 268  towns and cities in Connecticut, and I’m pretty sure that there aren’t 263 that I’d rather live in.

I soon realized the problem.  The article was obviously written by “city folk.”  Among the criteria used were population density, ( the lower the worse) and long commute times.  One of the towns was described as “not a very appealing place to live, unless you like peace and quiet.”  I’m not making this up.

I actually do like “peace and quiet.”  The combined population of the four towns mentioned is just under 30,000, a fraction of what you would find in an area this large anywhere else in the state.  One of the first things that my daughter does in the morning is to look out our back window for her friend “Frosty”,  an albino deer that lives in the woods behind us.  You don’t see things like that in Hartford or New Haven.

 

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It might take me thirty minutes to get to work each day, but there are four state parks within five minutes of me and another two within ten.  I can’t tell you how many hiking trails there are nearby because I still haven’t discovered the smallest fraction of them. I’m working on it though.

My daughter loves to go on these “adventures” into the woods with me.  She’s learning to appreciate nature and is as excited to see a squirrel run across our path as she is a giraffe in a zoo.  It’s a free, healthy activity that requires nothing more than a few hours of clear sky to enjoy.

 

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It’s also surprisingly stimulating to her imagination.  She treats even a simple walk along the river as if we are journeying to the Misty Mountains of Middle-Earth.  Fallen logs are dangerous creatures to be avoided, snarly vines are traps set by witches to impede our progress.  A few days ago we came across this large green rock. I’m not sure what anybody else sees, but for the next twenty minutes my four year old told me an epic tale of a heroic night that had been turned into a gigantic frog by an evil wizard.

 

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I would have been a little happier if she hadn’t  found it necessary to kiss the rock, but other than that it was awesome.

 

 

 

 

A for Effort?

 

 

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Every parent eventually faces the fact that nobody, including their children, are perfect. They each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses to be encouraged, nurtured or overcome. When presented with life’s challenges all that we can ask of them is to always do their best, to meet these challenges with their feet set and head held high. But what do we do when they don’t?

Last year the teenager had a horribly disappointing first year of high school. There was conflict with her peers, arguments with teachers, and nine months of nagging from her parents about her grades. She fell behind early, made minimal effort to catch up, and ended the year without fully meeting the requirements to advance to the next grade.

Obviously, we were very concerned. Even though we live in a very rural part of the state and our town boasts a brand new, absurdly expensive high school, its drop out rate still sits around 6%. I don’t believe that standardized testing should be used as the sole barometer of a school’s success, but ranking 130th out of 156 public high schools paints a pretty poor picture.

This year we opted for a fresh start and sent her to an alternative magnet school. Our hope was that a higher teacher to pupil ratio and the advertised “personalized learning experience” would lead to a more fully realized potential.

I still have reservations, but it appears that this was the correct decision. She’s much happier, more socially mature, and more receptive to instruction. Other than a C in Biology she achieved all As and Bs, earned several college credits, and is now back on pace to graduate on time.

I’m very proud of how far she has come in a year’s time, but wish I could feel stronger about her having “earned” these grades. I’m not implying that she paid off her teachers or hacked the school’s grading records, but there was no homework, no term papers, and only a few scattered projects. I can’t comment towards what went on during class time, but her Biology grade was accompanied by a note that said Kayla’s “phone was a large distraction this last semester”, a problem I hold the teacher responsible for. I’ve ranted about this issue before .

I’m probably just falling into the “back in my day” trap. We had several hours of homework a night, never would have dreamed of calling our teachers by their first names, and certainly wouldn’t have brought our Walkmans to class. A high school diploma was something more than a certificate of participation.

But the bottom line is that she is on track to earn one, and the chances of her advancing her education past that seem significantly higher. Her self-confidence is up and she is rightfully proud of her accomplishments. Her school established a set of expectations that she successfully achieved.

It leads me back to a question I haven’t yet been able to answer. What is more important for our children’s development? Being ultimately successful, or the effort that they put forth to get there?

 

 

 

New Holiday Proposal

In my last post, I may have given the impression that I am anti-Fathers Day.  I’m really not. I’m pretty much against all the current holidays. There are too many of them, nobody knows or cares what they mean anymore, and they are all too commercialized.  President’s Day is now about selling cars. Do you know how many American Presidents my daughter in high school can name? Obama and George Washington.  I’m afraid to ask her what the 4th of July is really about.

My pre-schooler knows what holidays are about. Presents. She was ticked off all Father’s Day because she was told there is no such thing as “Kid’s Day.”

Fortunately, I’m pretty convinced that within the next fifty years she will be running at least this country, if not the whole world.  As her chief adviser, one of the first things I plan to propose is a complete overhaul of the holiday system.  All “obligation” holidays like Valentine’s day will be gone. Religious holidays will be left to the people that actually practice religion.  We’ll leave Independence Day alone, and four new holidays will be created. Three day weekends will be increased to four.

 

1. In February of 1678, Boston became the first city in America to institute a paid fire company. On March 1st, 1961,  John F Kennedy established the Peace Corps. I propose the last Friday in February be called Public Service Day.  We don’t need to celebrate the birthdays of dead presidents or guilt anyone into buying roses or chocolates. We need to appreciate our police officers and everyone else that devotes their lives to our public safety and the improvement of the lives of others.

2.  Armed Forces Day will be moved to June 6, in honor of the thousands of lives lost during the Normandy landing in 1944. I don’t think we need separate Memorial and Veterans Days. Every man and woman that dons the uniform knows that they could potentially be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  We should be honoring our dead, but also should be doing more to honor and respect all those that serve.

3. There are no harvests to be celebrated anymore, and no factual basis for the Pilgrim – Native American dinner story that we all know, so I’m moving the entire Thanksgiving holiday to September 11. I can think of no better day to gather with family and friends to celebrate all of life’s blessings.  This is day when we are reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. I’m keeping a day set aside for appreciation.

4. On November 19, 1963, Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest and most important speeches in American history. He talked about a “new birth of freedom” and re-affirmed the principle that America was built on the proposition of “all men created equal.” Our last holiday of the year should be Diversity Day.

 

What do you think? Five holidays spread out throughout the year. Four days off from work for each one.

Remember, vote Alaina for president 2044.

 

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Not Another Fathers Day Post

 

I’ve been asked multiple times over the past few days how my Father’s Day was.  It was good.  I slept until 10:00, probably the latest in at least a year, woke up to find some bacon waiting for me, and did a whole lot of nothing most of the day except drink a few beers and watch golf on television. That night I finally got to watch the new Godzilla movie.  I liked it.  It reminded me a lot of the old school Godzilla movies I enjoyed as a child.

I also had several people tell me they were surprised I didn’t write a Father’s Day blog post.  Well, here’s why.  I don’t particularly like Father’s Day, for multiple reasons.

 

 

1.   I don’t like to be told what I have to do.  Father’s Day, like Mother’s and Valentine’s Day, is what I call an “obligation” holiday.  I love and appreciate my father and all the sacrifices he made for me growing up.  He was there for me in ways that I never even realized until I had children of my own. I don’t know how many times I’ve told him that over the past forty years, but if he didn’t know how I felt prior to this past weekend, my failings as a son  have gone much further than if I hadn’t bothered to call him.

 

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2. The marketing. I wasn’t expecting an actual gift from my wife, but I’m glad that she went with a simple shorts and T-shirt combo that I actually needed. Our insurance deductible and emergency room co-pay are much too high to buy me power tools, and she probably would have bought me the wrong golf equipment.  According to the television this past week, those are the only things that dads actually want.

3. Christopher Columbus.  Looking for a new trade route to the West Indies, Columbus instead landed on the Bahamas, the Antilles islands, and the Caribbean coasts of Venezuela and Central America. Never admitting to his mistake, he called the indigenous peoples “Indians”, initiated mass genocide, and founded the transatlantic slave trade before eventually being arrested and dismissed as governor by the Spanish government.  The anniversary of his arrival has been a “federal” holiday since 1937, with an accompanying day off from work and school for many people. In 1972, Father’s Day became a “national” holiday, meaning no day off.  I call bullshit on this.

4. It’s not a very happy day for a lot of people.  I have friends that grew up with crappy or abusive fathers. They hate Father’s day. There are also  those that have lost their children, those potentially great fathers that are medically unable to have children, and those that are not being allowed to be fathers to their children. There are no authoritative statistics on parental alienation, but I personally know several fathers that are being kept out of their children’s lives for no reasons except spite and hate.

 

Father’s Day was originally celebrated after a mining disaster in West Virginia killed three hundred and sixty-one men in 1908. Two hundred and fifty of the men were fathers so the town set aside a day to honor them. It was a commendable idea, but like many “holidays” of today, one that has run its course.

I’m very fortunate to have grown up with a great father and am now blessed with a happy, healthy family of my own.  My favorite part of the day Sunday was hearing my wife and children tell me that they loved and appreciated me.

It’s my favorite part of every day, obligated or not.

 

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J

Adventures with girls, from preschool to proms