Growing up, my parents tried hard to keep me involved in “positive” activities. Options were limited in such a small town, but I played Little League and stayed in the Boy Scouts until my mid-teenage years.

On most Sundays we attended a small Congregationalist church where 2/3 of the time was spent shaking hands and greeting neighbors. The other 1/3 was spent singing. If I spent Saturday night at my friend Steve’s house, ( RIP brother ) I’d accompany his family to the local Catholic church where I would spend the seemingly endless hours mouthing along to the responses and refrains, pretending to know what I was doing.

I went to Youth Group, including a couple of weekend retreats. I saw Amy Grant in concert. I’ve read The Bible cover to cover multiple times. I didn’t grow up to be an overly pious adult, but I like to think I’ve stuck with the basic “Do unto others” principle more often than not.

The teen has always been what most people would describe as a “good kid”, but like all of us, she hasn’t always chosen wisely in those WWJD moments.

So a few years ago we started going to church. I found another small Congregationalist church relatively close to home, with an elderly pastor we both liked. I figured that even if she didn’t buy into the spiritual side of the sermons, she would enjoy the hymns and no harm could come from another voice telling her to be good.

We lasted a few months. Kayla eventually got tired of being dragged out of bed on Sunday mornings and I decided not to push her. Would I have tried harder had it not been football season? Hard to say for certain.

It came as something of a surprise when Kayla then later joined a different church’s youth group. She started attending every Sunday service, sometimes staying at her grandmother’s Saturday nights so that it would be easier to get there.  Other than that it was of a Protestant denomination I didn’t know much, but we gave her the standard warnings about Kool Aid, kept our ears open for excessive references to the Book of Revelations, and tried to be supportive.

Things became clearer this past weekend when she came home from a retreat upset about a boy. I had forgotten one of the most basic tenets of understanding teenage female behaviors.  Its ALWAYS about a boy.

I’m assuming she plans to go back this weekend, and will be encouraged to do so. The more “positive” activities she involves herself in, the better.

I just wish there didn’t always have to be a boy.




Momentous Moments




Everyone knows that a child’s first few years are made up of a never ending string of huge accomplishments. First they roll over, then they sit. They crawl, then they stand, eventually they walk. They say their first words. Endless pictures and videos are taken.

In my opinion now, most of these moments are overrated. Lets face it, unless afflicted by some horrible physical abnormality, which can certainly happen, every child eventually stands up.  Chasing Alaina down Old Orchard Beach at 14 months, I found myself somewhat jealous of the other families I was hurdling. How were they keeping their kids on the blanket?

She was a very early speaker, and I’m proud of Alaina’s advanced vocabulary, but is the ability to mimic sound really such a celebrated accomplishment? Other than when she’s sleeping, Alaina hasn’t stopped talking for over two years. The novelty has worn off a little.

I think the proudest moments come from the challenges that children consciously decide to conquer.

For a long time, Alaina couldn’t be bothered with potty training.  Why should she stop what she was doing to get up and go to the bathroom? It’s not like we weren’t going to change her. There was no motivation until she understood that she wouldn’t be allowed to attend school or play soccer in a pull-up.  Seemingly overnight she was going on her own.

This was something I was very proud of. There was a goal-oriented effort on her part to modify behavior.  I didn’t take a picture of that first floating dooty, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.

Her first night sleeping in a bed without bars. Brushing her own teeth, walking in a grocery store instead of being pushed in a carriage.  I find all these “firsts” to hold much more meaning.

Maybe this is just the natural progression of things. Will her number recognition be less impressive when she solves her first algebra equation? Her rudimentary attempts at reading and writing forgotten when she starts working on homework? Probably. All I know is that for today, I’m going to take a picture of this etch-a- sketch and enjoy her pride in what she did.




And I still kind of wish I’d photographed that poop.

1st Party Invite



I don’t remember how old I was when I attended my first birthday party, but I’m fairly confident it was older than three.  Alaina’s last two birthdays have featured bouncehouses and “friends”,  but those friends were her multiple cousins and the children of mommy and daddy’s friends. I figured we had several more years before we would be dealing with a whole yard full of rugrats to entertain.

One of Alaina’s powderpuff posse members recently turned five, and as befits a young lady of that age, she was allowed to invite a few of her school friends to the party. Alaina was ecstatic about the invitation. When told it meant she would be attending a party, doubly so.

Drop off for her school is between 12:15-12:30, with pickup in the afternoon between 3:00-3:15. She goes three days a week, with two of these falling on “daddy days”. This turns out to be an incredibly short window to try and accomplish those things I am unable to do with a “helper.” There are roofs to shovel, toilets to clean, videogames to play. There is no time for socialization between parents.  The goal is to drop and run as quickly as possible, later to grab and go.

This contributed to me being far less enthusiastic about the party. I had no idea which of these little princesses we would be feting or which parents I would now be forced to engage in conversation with. I assumed the expectation would be for me to stay, but wasn’t completely sure. What was the protocol in a situation like this? I had absolutely no idea.

It turned out to be about as awkward as expected.  Family and friends of the birthday girl gathered in one room, while myself and several other school moms followed our kids into another. The hosts were very gracious but still basically strangers. Standing in a corner with my punch and cold pizza I tried to avoid eye contact with the women across the room, occasionally being bumped out of the way by those having much more fun than I was. I couldn’t help but be reminded of sixth grade dinner dances.

Fortunately my time in this purgatory was short. I had to work that afternoon, so after a few hours we collected our goody bag, said our goodbyes, and headed out. The promise of an afternoon with grammy made this exit far less painful than I had feared.

Not unexpectedly, this has led to increased anticipation and planning for her own birthday party. I’m not sure where I am going to find a talking unicorn between now and May, but I’m pretty sure we are going to need a bigger cake.





Even in pre-school, women travel in packs.There are 14 kids in Alaina’s class, but there are three other girls in particular that she calls her “best friends.” Her teachers go so far as to call them a “clique”. Somewhat to my relief, the other girl’s moms say their kids talk about Alaina as much as she does about them. At least one of these girls will be moving on to kindergarten next year, but I hope it works out that the others get to stay together.

I grew up in a very small town where I spent nursery school  to eighth grade with the same few dozen classmates. It made the transition to a larger, out of town high school harder, but created very strong bonds between us “Salem Kids.”  I’ve had many people come and go from my life over the years, but my closest friends remain those I made in those small classrooms years ago. Even in the pre-Facebook years we all made efforts to keep in touch. When someone moved away, we visited. We were best-men and groomsmen in each others weddings, sometimes multiple times.




I understand this is a “small town” phenomenon, impossible to duplicate where we live now. Salem is no longer the small town it was in those days either, boasting its own rotary now in addition to several traffic lights.

I find this unfortunate. Kayla seems to have no trouble making friends, but I’m not sure she’s found anybody yet that will have that kind of longevity.

This is important to me, because as fantastic as my parents were, my friends and their parents deserve almost equal credit ( or blame ) for the person I ultimately became.

My boys and I raised a fair amount of hell in our day, but as much as we pushed each other to further levels of stupidity, we were also always there to reign each other in if somebody was heading towards “really stupid” territory.  (thanks again btw.) My friends were good people and their parents were good people. We grew up to be good people.

So we try to keep an eye on Kayla’s friends, cringing inside as we hear stories of drug use and pregnancy.  We try to subtly nudge her towards those friends we feel might be better influences, conscious of the fact that we have no idea whatsoever. We stubbornly think that we can make a difference, knowing that in the end we can do nothing but cross our fingers and trust her judgement.

Mind your manners and stay out of trouble, Alaina’s pre-k posse.  I’m watching you..



The Death of Profanity

One thing I have picked up about today’s teenagers is a surprising lack of profanity in their limited actual conversations.They still swear for extra emphasis, and when very angered Kayla can curse with ease, but even if out of my earshot they swear twice as much as I think, this is still a quarter of the vulgarity we used at that age.  I’m ruling out gender as part of the equation because although the words might be slightly different, I’ve never found women to be any less profane than men. When properly riled, my wife can peel paint off walls and make a sailor blush.

I remember being eight or nine years old, preparing to leave for a friend’s birthday party. As she was sealing the card, my mother noticed that in a back corner, in as small a printing as I could manage, I had written every curseword that I knew. I was unable to explain why to her satisfaction. Didn’t she understand how cool I was being?

Somehow our current PC society has made swearing un-cool. The fact that this generation no longer uses homophobic or bigoted phrases to describe each other is a fantastic societal accomplishment that happened in a relatively short time frame, but MFer? I wouldn’t have guessed that MFer would ever go out of style.

My grandfather learned English as a second language. He was always especially fond of the curses. My father was a construction worker.  Those that know me can attest that my vocabulary is very F-centric.

I’ve always tried to censor myself around Kayla. For many years it was simply an attempt to set a good example. Now? It’s also to avoid the the look of contempt it brings when I slip up. I’ll never take too seriously the judgement of a teenage girl, but if you’ve seen one of their looks of contempt, you know that it can be highly effective.

The three year old, however, unfortunately thinks swearing is very cool. She wasn’t much over two when she sweetly asked her mother if “it would be OK if she wore her “f@#% ing  shoes today?” Apparently daddy had a hard time locating her sneakers the day before.  She’s also been know to use” GDit”when things aren’t going her way, and “for f@#%’s sake” when exasperated. There was a time when she would often sweetly ask to “whisper a secret in your ear.” This secret often turned out to be a naughty word.

Superhuman effort is taken to not swear in front of her. My head may actually explode one day.

She has been scolded, threats of punishment made, time-outs given.  As her vocabulary rapidly expands and she finds new and improved ways to make us crazy, the novelty of cursing seems to be wearing off.

We’ll see how long that lasts.




Adventures with girls, from preschool to proms