Birds and the Bees

There are some conversations that even the most progressive of modern fathers would prefer not to have with their daughters. Times when it seems perfectly acceptable to play the “go ask your mother” card. But what happens when mom isn’t available? What’s a dad to do when his daughter starts asking uncomfortable questions and it’s time to have “the talk”?

Fortunately, it wasn’t the teenager that trapped me in such a conversation, but the four year old.

Alaina has been a relentless talker since she first started stringing syllables together. She’s also a nonstop fount of questions. So many questions that there are times when it’s tempting to not always give her full my full attention. Until it’s too late. Sometimes even the most innocent of conversations can take surprising turns. I still haven’t been able to convince her that she wasn’t an adult prior to being our child.

“How come you and mommy get to sleep together, but I have to sleep all by myself?”

“Because when people are married they get to sleep in the same bed. It’s a rule.”

“When can I get married?’

“Not for a very long time. When you’re a grown up.”

“How did you get to be married?”

“I met your mommy, and eventually we decided we never wanted to be apart, so we threw a big party.”

“Was I at the party?”

“No honey, we didn’t make you for another couple of years.”

“Did it hurt to make me? How did you do that?”

Oh oh. This conversation was taking place during a short car ride to the pet store for bunny food. Alaina isn’t the type of child that will  stop until  questions are answered to her complete satisfaction. She’s seen pregnant women and is aware that there were babies in those bellies. My cavalier approach to this backseat babble was going to cost me.

“It hurt mommy some when you came out of her belly, but it didn’t hurt you or daddy.”

“So did you put me in there? In mommy’s belly? How did I get in there to be made?”

Still a half mile until the pet store. I wasn’t getting out of this easily.

“I used my baby making magic.”

“You don’t have baby making magic.”

“Yes sir, ask your mom. On second thought, don’t ask your mother about daddy’s baby making magic.”

“Can I see your powers?”

“No honey, a cranky old wizard stole daddy’s baby making powers.”

“What was his name?”

“Dr. Friedman. Hey, you want to go look at some fish?”

 

 

 

Check Yes or No

 

check yes

 

In the movies, high school kids are either in the popular group or are nerdy outcasts trying to fit in and climb the social ladder. Apparently there are only about thirty students in each grade and there is no middle ground.  The way that I remember high school there were a handful of people that seemed pretty universally liked, a handful of real dweebs, and about two hundred others that fell somewhere in between. I probably would have fallen closer to the dweeb end of that imaginary scale, but I was never wedgied, swirlied, or stuffed into a locker, so things weren’t all that bad.

For today’s teenagers, that scale is no longer imaginary. Popularity is something that can be easily quantified. Facebook friends, Twitter followers, likes, shares, and so many other ways across all the various social media platforms. Daily life is now a non stop popularity contest, with the results at their fingertips. Before it became the juggernaut that it is today, Facebook was once known as Facesmash, a site for Harvard students to rate each other’s attractiveness. It literally started as a popularity contest.

By now everyone is aware of how important it is to monitor our children’s online activities, but I wonder if we are always looking at the right things. A positive status update or a new Instagram selfie showing off a haircut or new outfit may seem like good things to us, but without enough “likes” or other online positive reinforcement can easily lead to moodiness or feelings of inadequacy.  There’s even a fancy name for it : Social Media Anxiety Disorder, the excessive preoccupation with how the things being shared are received.

It’s not just teenagers that are having these problems. If anything, it seems like social media has a way of turning perfectly adjusted adults back into high schoolers. Jealousy, braggadocio, pettiness, we see all of these daily as we scroll through the minutia of other people’s lives. Its no secret that the size of a person’s stones increases greatly when it’s a screen in front of them and not another person.

This isn’t intended to be another old man rant about how much better things used to be. If you’re around my age, chances are you first signed up for Facebook as a way to reconnect with people from old jobs or schools that you wouldn’t keep in contact with otherwise. Several of my best friends live in other parts of the country now and I get to see pictures of them and their children frequently. I get most of my sports news from my phone and a few months ago played a game of “who would win a fight between” with novelist Joe Hill and a few other fans on Twitter. It was cool.

Approximately 50% of you are reading this based on a link from either Facebook or Twitter, with a few others coming by way of LinkedIn or Google+.  As always, I appreciate your time.

Don’t be shy with that “like” button.

 

 

 

Failure is Not an Option

 

All week long my daughter has been nagging me to take her to the park, and all week long I’ve been saying no. Not because I’m mean or don’t want her outside having fun, but because I just didn’t want to go. We have a pretty nice swingset, plenty of outdoor activities for her, and most importantly, a large pool. This summer is moving along at an alarming rate. The playground will still be accessible a few months from now. The pool will not.

Yesterday I finally gave in. The sky was overcast, I didn’t have anything pressing to accomplish, and I knew it would make her happy. Plus, I was tired of her asking. I assumed that it was the company of other children that she was looking for, something that seemed reasonable.

That wasn’t the case at all. There were several other kids her age and she ignored them all, strange for my daughter, who is extremely outgoing and social. It wasn’t a day for running and playing. It was a day for training. Alaina was on a mission to “practice her climbing.”

 

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She can occasionally be whiny, like all four year olds, but for the most part Alaina is pretty even-tempered. The only things that can always be counted on to get her blood boiling are being told she is “too little” to do something, or even worse, if she tries something and fails.

Apparently the last time Alaina was at the playground with my wife, she got stuck atop a corkscrew pole that several older girls had talked her into climbing. I heard this story after remarking on how weird it seemed that all she wanted to do  while there was to go up and down the pole, over and over, until she was comfortable doing it by herself. When that was accomplished we moved on to other climbable obstacles.

My daughter was determined. That BS wasn’t going to be happening again. She was going to practice her climbing.

 

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I absolutely love this about her. In her four years there has never been a challenge that she has backed down from, and I hope this quality continues. Too much pride isn’t healthy, and there is a competitive edge to her that we might need to monitor, but for now we will be at the park, “practicing her climbing”.  Because failure is not an option.

 

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Sleepaway Camp

The Boy Scouts of America were a big part of my life when I was young. The uniforms were kind of dorky and I don’t remember any of the knots, but I think the lessons in civic responsibility and leadership were important ones. Spending a weekend every month in the woods also taught me independence and self-reliance at a pretty young age.

In the summers this meant an entire week away from my parents, kind of a big deal at eight or nine years old. I look back fondly at nights around the fire, shooting the shit with good buddies, hours away from home.

 

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These camps were all male, of course. Only in the movies is there a Girl Scout camp a short swim across the lake. If given the option, would I have rather gone to co-ed camp, especially once I got to my early teens? Of course. Would I have gone completely on my own, without any wingmen? Probably not.

That’s exactly what Kayla did though, not once, but twice this summer.  She’s been attending the Windham-Tolland 4-H camp every year for a while now, often with no idea ahead of time if she will know anybody there. The camp actually goes out of it’s way to segregate people from prior friends to promote socialization with new people. She shares a small cottage with three other girls for a whole week, strangers from all over the county. I give her a lot of credit for this.

 

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I give myself a lot of credit for not stressing out more about the co-ed nature of the camp. It didn’t bother me much in past years, but now that she is fifteen and looks eighteen, things are a little different.  Last summer she returned home with a new Facebook friend, an eighteen year old counselor that she eventually un-friended when he began to get creepy.

Ironically, it was the fact that she has a semi-serious boyfriend now that made me feel better. I knew that any wannabe huntsmen trying to talk her into  late night nature walks would be quickly rebuked.

The amount and variety of activities available to the kids is impressive. There is horseback riding on certain weeks, archery, kayaking, sewing, swimming, arts and crafts, cooking, and a host of others. The dance and music campers put on a variety show on the last night of the week.

 

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It’s a very good experience for her, and one that she really seems to enjoy. The first week she won a “helping hand” award for her willingness to volunteer for after meal cleanup, something she was very proud of that we are hopeful will lead to similar behaviors at home.  I’m thinking of printing off some certificates as encouragement.

 

 

48 Hrs of Pilgrims and Pickles

 

Plymouth Welcome

 

In Dec of 1620, 102 settlers disembarked from their two month journey across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower, a three masted merchant ship. With the assistance of the Wampanoag tribe they established the Colony of Plymouth, the first permanent settlement in what would eventually be known as New England. Forty of those settlers were members of a radical Puritan religious sect known as the English Seperatist Church,  ancestors of mine among them. Three other ships landed soon after, The Fortune, the Anne, and the Little James, all seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity.

History repeated itself in July of 2015, when Plymouth, Massachusetts found itself once more beset by those escaping tyranny and persecution. My wife and I, child free for 48 glorious hours.

plymouth selfie

As the “birthplace on America”, Plymouth is home to many museums, historical landmarks, and educational opportunities.  It is also home to over thirty pubs and restaurants, many of them overlooking the ocean.  Despite our best efforts to distribute out business equally, we also managed to learn a few things over the weekend.

 

1. Those boats were small. There is a full scale model of the Mayflower available for touring in Plymouth Harbor. It’s only 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. Besides the main deck there was a cargo hold and the gun deck, where the passengers resided. With a crew of thirty besides the 102 passengers, that 50×25 foot area must have gotten very crowded over a two month voyage.

 

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2. Whales are big. One of the highlights of our weekend was a four hour whale watching cruise. Stellwagon Bank in Cape Cod Bay is a marine sanctuary and feeding grounds for humpback whales. My wife was much more excited about this excursion than I initially was, but seeing these gigantic creatures in their natural habitat is something that everyone should do at least once. It was worth the time, and not overly expensive if using a Groupon, such as this one from Provincetown.  I would recommend bringing a sweatshirt, no matter how hot it is on the mainland. It gets cold out on the ocean.

 

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3. There are still alcoholic concoctions I’m unaware of. This weekend we were introduced to two new ways to shoot Jameson Irish Whiskey. The first, out of a hollowed out pickle that you then eat, I would only recommend to those that enjoy the taste of Jameson and pickles. The second, a shooter backed up with a glass of orange juice and a slice of bacon, creates such a taste explosion of breakfast yumminess that I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before.

4. There’s no place like home. I know people that never go anywhere without their children and I give them a lot of credit. I love our kids, but it really is nice to occasionally have a whole day or two alone with my bride. After returning home and finally shipping them off to sleep, I lie in bed and was surprised to reflect on how much I had missed my own pillow.

J

Adventures with girls, from preschool to proms