My Father’s Keeper

New DadvMom post at the New York Observer today.  For Grandpas past and present.

Father Holding his newborn daughter. (Photo: Dean White) Read more at Follow us: @newyorkobserver on Twitter | newyorkobserver on Facebook



Fifty Shades of Mom

New DadvMom post at New York Observer today.  Have a look.

Photo: Will Oliver/Getty Images



Why Kids Should Skip School

We were late again this morning. These days, the school secretary just scrawls “LATE” on an orange tardy pass and sends us on our way. She has stopped asking why.

Maybe it’s because DISCOMBOBULATION is too hard to spell, and INEPTITUDE seems rude. Most mornings, my excuses are pretty lousy anyway. We are late because:

  • Lizzie forgot to wear shoes.
  • I lost Henry’s pants.
  • We were watching a really good Barbie movie, and could not pull ourselves away.

Other mornings, our reasons are so distressingly bad that I cannot even say them out loud. We are late because:

  • Mom was looking at videos of her Facebook friend’s cat.
  • We were playing with snails on the front porch.
  • Lizzie woke up with a small fever, but Mom didn’t want to miss yoga so she gave Lizzie Tylenol and that takes at least an hour to kick in.

We’ve tried waking up earlier, and packing lunches the night before, but the outcome is the same. At least twice a week, we scramble madly to get ourselves out the door.

I know the buck stops with me. My kindergartener cannot set the alarm clock. My 2-year-old cannot tell time. I am the only person who can get us there.

But as it turns out, I don’t really want to.

I want us to skip school sometimes. My daughter is five, and some days I would like her back. I want to take her to a 10am showing of Annie, and to see the tigers at the zoo on a Tuesday. I want a day at home just to make things with marshmallows.

My friends tell me that’s what summer vacation is for. But my love for my kiddo is not seasonal. Not everything awesome happens in July and August. You have the weekends, don’t you? Indeed. And so does soccer and church and birthday parties and putting away laundry. Impossibly, our weekends feel busier than our school days.

It would be nice to plant seeds on Wednesday morning, and look for starfish at low tide. I want us to follow those snails on the front porch, and see what they do all day.

It sounds like you should homeschool, people say. But I adore my daughter’s teacher. She does a lovely job. I’m not suggesting that I am better at Math or Spanish, or that I understand everything it takes to teach a child to read.

I am suggesting that, for my five-year-old, 180 days of school is nonsensical.

For high school, I get it. We are preparing them for the work force. Bagging Calculus to watch Project Runway with mom is not a fantastic use of time. But kindergarten? Wouldn’t 150 days suffice? Or how about 92? That, I could handle.

I think it’s great that 180 days of school are available. I just don’t want to be held to that. When my daughter missed her fourth day, we got a letter. I explained that we had been in Ohio for my brother’s wedding and extended the trip to visit my 94-year-old grandma. According to the district, none of these missed days was a “valid, legal absence.”

I can keep my daughter out of school for an illness, religious holiday, or funeral, but not to visit her living great-grandmother ten states away. In an age of nannies, country day camps, and stressed-out working parents, I find it baffling to be chastised for spending more time with my kid. Upon reading the school’s attendance policy, I was further reminded that parents whose children miss too many days can be criminally prosecuted.

Full disclosure: I was once part of this system. I taught for ten years, and have a graduate degree in education. I know school bells were invented to prepare students for factory assembly lines. We take summers off to accommodate a long-since-vanished agrarian economy. And compulsory school attendance came about to elevate the overall education of our citizenry. But when was it decided that our youngest school-aged children should be bound by such rigidity?

Don’t get me wrong. On balance, compulsory education is a good thing. In this country, we have the good fortune to be able to send all of our children to school. The three R’s matter (that’s Reading, [w]Riting, and ‘Rithmatic for those who are keeping track). But there should be room for wonder, creativity, and family. We shouldn’t have to fake smallpox to go visit grandma.

When I was growing up, I was that annoying “perfect attendance” kid. Most years, I did not miss a single day. I got a certificate, and my name was called at the year-end assembly. I was proud of that. Except, looking back, it makes me so very sad. For those nine months of school, I had nowhere better to go.

Schools don’t think kindly of parents like me. There are words for us: ENABLERS. And for our kids: TRUANTS.

I understand the schools’ concerns. They lose state money when kids don’t show. And teachers have a lot of ground to cover. Students playing catch-up slow everyone else down. For some kids, excessive absences can be debilitating. What happens to a child who misses the week when they teach the letter “G”?

I’m willing to chance it.

School is not the only place where learning happens. Can’t we broaden our understanding of what it means to gain an education? I feel like I’m already meeting them half way. I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom. I have monitored reading groups, and timed laps during the jog-a-thon. I stapled paper-plate turkeys to the bulletin board at Thanksgiving. In return, can’t the school trust that time my daughter spends with me is also educational? That gardening, and laughter, and snail-based inquiry all have a place at the table.




Originally published at the New York Observer.





Soft Kitty

Henry petting Lola

Henry singing Soft Kittie


Christmas Past (2011)

Our Christmas tree gets uglier every year. It’s not the tree’s fault. This year we sprung for a Fraser fir, cut fresh at a local farm. It has soft needles, that ideal pine-cone shape, and a pointy top perfect for holding a star. But when we got home, I felt like apologizing. This tree did not deserve what we were about to do. We re-cut the bottom, mounted it in its holder, and gave it water. For about five minutes, our tree looked beautiful. Then came the decorations.

My wife and I watched as our two children vandalized the bottom half of the tree. Katie hung multiple baubles on the same limbs, causing them to bend and bow, as though the tree was gesturing “why me?” Ornaments were shoved directly onto branches: An angel dangled by its halo; a smiling Santa impaled through the nose. Our 2-year old, Lizzie, sat chewing our Nativity scene, throwing body parts into the tree.

To be fair, my wife and I are partly to blame. We suffer from that common seasonal malady I call ugly-ornament-itis. We can’t seem to throw any away, especially those made by our kids. Or anyone’s kids, really. More than half the construction-paper-and-popcorn curios are mine. When I left home, I inherited these homemade gems from my parents, who were eager to regain their own tree’s dignity. I see the 30-year-old hunk of dough my wife attempted to shape into a wreath, and a mouse-like creature I vaguely recall molding from melted crayons.

This year, our 6-year-old was in charge of the lights. Katie looped them tightly around the trunk, as though dressing a wound. In a way, I suppose she was. When the strand ran out, she dove into a bag of Mardi Gras beads. Shiny purple necklaces now hang in bunches from the middle limbs. In third grade, my wife wrote an Arbor Day poem entitled: “What does it feel like to be a tree?” Today, she thought she heard the answers whispered through those laden branches.

About halfway up, the tackiness halts. Cotton-ball snowmen and pipe-cleaner candy canes give way to glass stars and holly sprigs. The effect is a bit schizophrenic. It’s as though our tree got tipsy one night and started decorating itself, but passed out halfway through. If I lined up photos of my childhood Christmas trees, I bet I could arrange them chronologically by how high the ugly goes.

Some day, my wife and I will get our tree back. The kids will move out and inherit their own boxes of Christmas tacky. I picture the two of us in our holiday cardigans, sipping port by the fire, gazing at our tree. It will be elegant, majestic, refined. Then, one of us will venture into the attic to retrieve the box kept behind. We’ll hang Katie’s clothespin Rudolph, Lizzie’s headless baby Jesus, and every last memory we find. And somehow, I know our tree will thank us.



Originally published on NPR’s All Things Considered, in December, 2011.



Boy with Uke


Think this is how Bon Jovi got his start?

Henry singing Twinkle Twinkle1


It’s Either Poop or Chocolate


It was chocolate.

But I tasted it to make sure.  Why did I do that?



5 Things Our Kids Are Not Getting for Christmas

It is the holiday season, and parents everywhere have begun the mad scramble to acquire more/better/bigger stuff for their kids. Stuff that will equal happiness. In years past, we’ve been guilty of taking part in this ritual, throwing presents at our children to make them love us.

This year, we are trying something different. Out with the big gifts, the expensive, over-the-top extravagances. We are also putting the kibosh on the “But, Daddy, Everyone Else Has One!” gifts. If it’s so popular, go play with it at someone else’s house. We’re not buying it.

So here they are, the five things our kids aren’t getting:

1. An iPhone

Despite the pleas of our 9-year old, and the poster presentation she prepared for us on Tuesday, she will not be getting an iPhone. Or an iPod. Or an iPad. The child is 9. She is not ready. Even if she was, we would not be. Kids her age need to shoot hoops and ride bikes and journal and OCCASIONALLY play Fruit Ninja. We will not send her signals at Christmas that our priorities are the other way round.

2. Elf on the Shelf

No. Just… no. The kids get enough build-up to Christmas without some profit-driven “tradition” that forces parents to create nightly narratives involving spilled marshmallows and creatively-placed Ritz crackers. Elf Found Poisoned on the Shelf? Now that’s a tradition we could get behind.

3. A puppy

Strictly speaking, a puppy is not a Christmas present. It is 15 years of poop wrapped in fur. We know. We’ve had two. They are cute and lovable, but destined to break your heart. Much more suitable for Valentine’s Day.

4. Any variation of the American Girl experience*

Since when did a $100 doll become an “experience?” They’re pretty, and the stores are worth strolling through for their museum-like perfection. But why do we shop there? Isn’t this a classic example of parental peer pressure? Buy the $20 knock-off at Target instead. Then you won’t have an aneurysm when your kid cuts the doll’s hair or actually (gasp!) plays with it.

* Exception to #4 — If Grandma is involved, give in. Grandparents get to indulge in ways parents do not.

5. Super hero toys

We get it — Batman rocks. But we encounter real heroes every day. We should not have to invent fake ones. Spring for fire trucks, doctor kits or pilot helmets. Let’s cultivate qualities in our children that actually matter — bravery, wisdom and service to others. Not x-ray vision or cars that shoot flames.

Christmas will be upon us soon. Will we be sitting around with lumps of coal? Hopefully not. But we will simplify. The kids will be getting outdoor toys — baseball gloves and hula hoops. They’ll be getting experiences — theater tickets and surfing lessons. And they’ll be getting books, lots of them, because kids can never have too much to read.

December does not have to be a mad scramble. Our kids don’t need to unwrap seventeen presents to know we cherish them. This year, we are loving them by giving them less.


Read more DadvMom on the Huffington Post.


Anybody Know a Good Exorcist?

Possessed Henry

Possessed Henry



Irritation + Laughter = Children

Kiddos are hard work. It is okay to say that out loud. Like the night when they had the flu AND I had the flu. Hard work. Also disgusting.

Kids are great fun, too. Like the night we turned up “What Does the Fox Say?” and jumped around the living room doing barnyard dances. Even the dog laughed.

But most of the time, moments with children are simultaneously aggravating and funny. It’s all how you look at it. Whether the fart jokes are disgusting or hilarious becomes an exercise in perspective. Like Henry refusing to wear pants this morning. It irritated me because we were supposed to pick Katie up from a sleepover. Instead, my 2-year-old circled the house half-naked yelling, “No Pants! No Pants!” Aggravating? Sure. But funny, too. Just like Katie’s singing at the dinner table yesterday. For whatever reason, for the better part of thirty minutes, she turned all words into song lyrics. Instead of asking me to, “Pass the salt,” it was, “Paaaasss theeee ssssaaaaaalt.” Annoying? Yup. But also funny. Outside of a movie musical or maybe an asylum, who does such things? Only children.

Which leads me to today. Little Lizzie. God bless her. The kid loves pumpkin pie. Not jelly beans. Not cupcakes. Pie. And since we are cooking Thursday’s feast, I thought we should test a recipe or two this weekend. We practiced gravy with the roast chicken, and baked a pie for dessert. The whole house smelled like cinnamon and garlic and butter and love.

It was all Lizzie could do to nibble on her chicken and vegetables, desperately waiting for that pie. While the rest of us were cleaning up dinner, she snuck off and cut herself a slice. The largest slice of pie I have ever seen. It was as big as her head.

When I walked into the dining room, she just sat there looking at me. It was written all over her face. What is Mom going to say? Of course, I was annoyed. While I was scraping plates and loading the dishwasher, she was sneaking dessert. Plus, what kind of child thinks it is okay to just cut into a whole pie? Who does that? I felt a lecture coming on.

But instead, I just looked at her sitting there. She hadn’t even taken a bite yet. She knew it was too big. She knew she should have waited. But the damage was done. And really, what damage? No one was bleeding. It was a pie. And a practice pie at that.

I said, “Lizzie, how come you have your dessert already?”

And she said, “It was an accident.”

So I laughed. I could have grumbled, but I laughed. Because how can you ‘accidentally’ cut pie? She awaited my wrath. And instead, we giggled and ate our dessert. Even though it was annoying, it was also funny. And kind of awesome.

My 5-year-old boldly cut into an entire pie — something I NEVER would have done when I was five. She is brave and fierce and fiery and she makes me crazy sometimes, but man, she also makes me laugh. They all do.  When I see it.  When I let them.